Negligent Hiring Of Teacher With History Of Inappropriate Relationship

Sovereign Immunity

The father of a Mulberry High School student filed a lawsuit against the Polk County School Board alleging that the school board was negligent in hiring Jason Argo as a teacher.  The lawsuit claims that the Polk County School Board should have known when it hired Jason Argo that a temporary injunction for protection against repeat violence had been entered against him approximately 10 years prior arising out of inappropriate communications that Mr. Argo had with a girl.  The injunction order required that Argo have no contact with the 11-year-old girl and shall stay at least 500 feet away from her residence or school.

In the lawsuit, Argo was teaching at Mulberry High School in 2014 when a 16-year-old girl’s mother encountered messages on Twitter between Argo and the girl.  The Polk County School Board suspended Argo without pay for three days according to the lawsuit.  Thereafter, Argo was charged with three counts of sexual battery on a minor.  Argo was terminated in June 2016.

The Government Can Be Sued For Negligent Hiring And Retention Of Employees

Florida recognizes a cause of action by third parties against a business or a entity of the government that was negligent in hiring or retaining an employee.  Usually, these cases involve an employee who uses a position of trust or the credibility of the business to gain access to a person’s home where a violent or sexual crime is committed.  The government is no different than a business in this regard.

Teachers Are In A Position Of Authority Over Students Under Florida’s Sexual Battery Statute

Section 794.011, Florida Statutes, considers a teacher in a position of control or authority over a student, thereby making any sexual activity between teachers and students a crime in Florida, even if the student is over the age of 18.  See below:

The offender is a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or correctional probation officer as defined in s. 943.10(1), (2), (3), (6), (7), (8), or (9), who is certified under s. 943.1395 or is an elected official exempt from such certification by virtue of s. 943.253, or any other person in a position of control or authority in a probation, community control, controlled release, detention, custodial, or similar setting, and such officer, official, or person is acting in such a manner as to lead the victim to reasonably believe that the offender is in a position of control or authority as an agent or employee of government.

Sexual relations between teachers and students have no place in our public schools and these matters are to be taken seriously.  In this particular case, the father of the girl involved has a good argument that his daughter would not have been the victim of a crime if the school board had found Mr. Argo’s past injunction involving an 11-year-old girl.  Doing the math, Mr. Argo would have been about 25 years old at the time of the injunction for protection against repeat violence.  A civil jury is likely to find that the school board should have found the past injunction in a background check and should have rejected his employment application because of it.

What Is All Of This Worth?

Unless there is a claims bill (which is not likely considering the current political climate in Tallahassee), the government has granted a limited waiver of sovereign immunity up to $200,000 per claimant and $300,000 in the aggregate for each liability claim that the government is found responsible for.  A jury may award more than those limits but the Legislature would have to approve payment above those limits in order to collect.  Regardless, a payment of $200,000 in taxpayer money out of the school board’s budget is significant and causes change to happen.

Talk To A Lakeland Personal Injury Attorney About Your Case

If you have a case against the government for a personal injury, you should contact a Lakeland personal injury attorney for a free review of the facts and advice on what you can do.  Call to set up your free appointment today.


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February 10, 2017