Kentucky: Teacher’s Tort Action Against Snake-Handling Assistant Principal Barred by Exclusivity

The Court of Appeals of Kentucky recently affirmed a state trial court’s summary judgment in favor of a high school assistant principal and a county board of education in a civil action filed by a high school teacher/administrator (and her husband) that alleged intentional and malicious injury [Jones v. Dougherty, 2012 Ky. App. LEXIS 283 (Dec. 14, 2012)]. Agreeing with the trial court that the teacher’s tort action was barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the state’s workers’ compensation law, the appellate court held that the actions of the defendant principal did not amount to “willful and unprovoked physically aggression.” Moreover, none of the actions of the assistant principal occurred outside the course and scope of her employment.

The teacher alleged that the assistant principal entered the teacher’s office carrying a large snake, that when the teacher saw the snake, she jumped up out of her chair, started screaming, and ran into the concrete wall that was behind her chair. The teacher indicated the snake had its head up and its tongue out as if it was going to strike. The teacher alleged that she suffered injuries to her knees and heart, as well as post traumatic stress syndrome. The teacher also alleged that the assistant principal just stood there and laughed and said that the teacher must be “a sissy” because she was afraid of “my friend.” Her husband alleged that he had suffered a loss of consortium because of his wife’s injuries.

The assistant principal countered that she took the snake to the school’s administrative offices because a student’s mother had brought it to school for a science class. The assistant principal added that she did not enter the teacher’s office but remained in the doorway, and that the teacher had never communicated any fear of snakes. The court continued that there was no evidence that the assistant principal threatened to touch or touched the teacher with the snake, or that she pushed or thrust the snake toward the teacher. Absent any such evidence of aggression or hostility, the assistant principal’s actions fell within the scope of her employment. Both the school district and the assistant principal enjoyed the immunity afforded by the state’s workers’ compensation law.

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