Legal principle can lead to injustice

Published 11:34am Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dear Editor,

I have been practicing law for almost 15 years and primarily represent victims of abuse and neglect. Sadly, many of my cases involve sexual abuse in state-run facilities. The issue of immunity for the government agencies and employees that operate these facilities is an issue that I have encountered many times. The vast majority of the public has no idea what immunity is and how it greatly limits victims’ ability to seek legal recourse for wrongs that have been perpetrated against them by these agencies and their employees.

A recent example is the Penn State sexual abuse story. Several university administrators and coaches were fired after allegations surfaced that they were aware of the abuse and failed to take appropriate action.

If this had happened in Alabama, the university and some of the individuals involved would be completely protected because of legal principles known as “sovereign immunity” and “state-agent immunity.” This immunity does not allow a victim to bring a civil lawsuit against governmental entities and some state employees for money damages. Protecting governmental entities such as Penn State and its employees from prosecution would be a travesty of justice.

My heart goes out to the victims in the Penn State tragedy, and also to victims in Alabama who will have their access to the courtroom denied due to outdated immunity laws.

Though the situation at Penn State is tragic, let’s hope that it leads people to reconsider their views on civil justice, especially regarding immunity.

Tommy James

Birmingham

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