Good news for public employers: The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has clarified that government employees cannot do an end-run around the workers’ comp system by trying to call their injuries a Constitutional deprivation of due process and suing in federal court.
The court said that unless employees can show that their employers had actual knowledge that the job was extremely risky and did nothing, employees can’t win a Constitutional lawsuit.
Recent case: Rosella Hunt worked for a public school as a special education teacher’s aide, providing support for an autistic girl with a history of disruptive behavior. Hunt volunteered to take the girl bowling as part of the child’s individual education plan (which federal law requires schools create for disabled children). At the bowling alley, the girl tried to choke Hunt, and Hunt felt something pop in her neck. She ended up with two herniated disks.
Hunt sued the school district, arguing that it had deprived her of her Constitutional rights by allowing her to be injured.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her claim, reasoning that Hunt had volunteered for the outing, and thus assumed some of the risk. The court said the school was obligated to educate the girl. Even if it was aware that she was potentially dangerous, that wasn’t enough to make it liable. (Hunt v. Sycamore Community School District, No. 07-4082, 6th Cir., 2008)