Legal Newsline

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Teacher immune from lawsuit over fatal wreck caused by student's trip to McDonald's

State Court

By Charmaine Little | Dec 17, 2019


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newline) – On Dec. 6, the Supreme Court of Alabama granted a Tuscaloosa City Schools teacher’s petition for writ of mandamus under state-agent immunity in a negligence case against her after one of her students was in a car accident that killed a woman and injured her two sons during a trip to McDonald's after class.

Sonia Blunt was sued by Keith Langston, as next friend father of Joshua and Matthew Langston, who were minors when the lawsuit was initially filed. While the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court said that a genuine issue of material fact existed on whether Blunt should have state-agent immunity, the Supreme Court sided with Blunt and granted her petition to direct the lower court to enter summary judgment in her favor.

The justices ruled that Blunt didn’t fail to comply with the summer-programs handbook despite claims that she did. The student who took the trip to McDonald's, Marcus Crawford, told Blunt he was done with his work for the day and was leaving class. 

So even if Blunt pointed to the instructional hours in the summer-programs handbook, Crawford wouldn’t have been barred from leaving the classroom as he was done with his work, the ruling states.

“In other words, no effective violation of a rule in the summer-programs handbook occurred,” the opinion states.

Chief Justice Tom Parker and justices Michael Bolin, Greg Shaw, Alisa Kelli Wise, Tommy Bryan, William B. Sellers, Sarah H. Stewart and Jay Mitchell concurred. Justice Brady E. Mendheim Jr. concurred specially.

Keith argued that Blunt went beyond her authority when she let Crawford leave school grounds without officially checking out from school. The justices noted that the check-out policy was only effective during the actual school year, and not the summer program that Crawford was enrolled in during the summer of 2010.

Ultimately, Keith didn’t show that Blunt actually went beyond her authority when she let Crawford leave school grounds.

The ruling states Crawford was in one of Blunt’s summer credit recovery classes in 2010. He told her he was done with his work for the day on June 28, 2010. While Blunt said she had no idea where he was going when he left the classroom, Crawford claimed that she told him to go to McDonald’s to get her lunch and come back within 10 minutes. 

Blunt insists that she never told him to go McDonald's, and pointed out that two other students, Jestin White and Jessica White, said in Crawford's criminal trial that it was Jestin who asked Crawford to go to McDonald’s to get lunch.

Crawford testified that the food took longer than he thought it would, and he was rushing to get back to the school based on Blunt’s alleged orders. Crawford was a mile from the campus when he tried to pass a car in front of him in a double-yellow center line and drove into oncoming traffic. 

He hit a car that was driven by TCS teacher Susan Kines Langston, with Matthew and Joshua Langston in the car. Susan was killed and Matthew and Joshua were seriously injured. Crawford was convicted of reckless manslaughter and sentenced to five years and nine months in jail. Keith Langston filed his suit in December 2012.

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Alabama Supreme Court