Case Summary: Thayer v. Washington County School District, City of St. George.
Posted on Aug. 17, 2012

Under what circumstances can a person sue the government? The Utah Supreme Court considered one circumstance earlier this year in the case, Thayer v. Washington County School District, City of St. George.

In the fall of 2008, the drama department of Desert Hills High School staged a production of the musical Oklahoma! To enhance the production, the theater instructor wanted to fire blanks from a real gun rather use a prop gun. A parent volunteered the use of his handgun.  

A police officer assigned as the school resource officer considered the request. A state law prohibits guns from schools, but the officer recommended to a vice principal that the gun be permitted subject to certain conditions to ensure that only an adult would have and use the gun. 

Despite these conditions, fifteen year old Tucker Thayer was allowed to handle and fire the gun.  The gun was fired near his head. Though it was loaded with a blank cartridge only, the blast drove fragments into Tucker’s brain, and he died later that night. 

Tucker’s parents consulted with an attorney and determined that the school and police department had been negligent in permitting the gun on campus and permitting students to handle it without adult supervision. They brought suit in federal court.  

Sometimes it is necessary for federal courts to ask the state Supreme Court to determine a particular question of state law. In many circumstances, the government is immune from and cannot be sued. In this case, the Utah Supreme Court was asked whether state immunity law shielded the school and the police department from the lawsuit. The Utah Supreme Court determined that the immunity does not apply to this case. The case can proceed to a settlement or to a trial. 

Commentary:  It is often necessary for cases to go to the appellate courts before or after they are finally decided by a jury or a judge.  Jones Waldo is well equipped to guide your case through this process. CLICK HERE to visit the Jones Waldo Appellate Litigation practice group page.

Also, there are several rules that apply to lawsuits against cities and other government bodies that do not apply to suits against private companies or individuals.  Selecting attorneys who are familiar with these rules and procedures and have successfully sued government in the past is critical.  Several attorneys at Jones Waldo have successfully pursued many such cases, including Stephen Clark, Kathleen McDonald, and Bret Hanna.

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kathleenAttorney Kathleen McDonald

Kathleen is a shareholder at Jones Waldo.  She specializes in litigation with a particular emphasis on appeals and commercial litigation.  Kathleen has written or argued appeals in the Tenth Circuit, the Utah Court of Appeals, and the Utah Supreme Court.  Kathleen specializes in construction, environmental, civil rights, and commercial litigation.

Kathleen received her law degree with honors from the University of Arizona in 2004.  She received her undergraduate degree from Oberlin College.  Kathleen has unusually well-rounded legal experience; in law school, Kathleen clerked with an in-house corporate attorney and worked in government.  She also clerked at the Utah Court of Appeals.  

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Kathleen volunteers a significant amount of time each week with a variety of community programs including the Tracy Aviary, the Bennion Center and Friends of Animals.

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