How government entities can limit their exposure to liability
By Kelly Telfeyan
While it is impossible for governmental entities to prevent every lawsuit, they can minimize their exposure to liability by taking a couple of practical, inexpensive, and easily implemented measures to better insulate themselves from liability. First, governmental entities should attempt to ensure that their internal policies and procedures are accurate and up-to-date at all times. Second, governmental entities should attempt to ensure that their employees receive sufficient training not only on the governmental entity’s internal policies and procedures but also on applicable state and federal law that could impact how they carry out their job responsibilities.
As it relates to the first measure, there is perhaps no better way to limit a governmental entity’s exposure to liability than to ensure that its internal policies and procedures are accurate and up-to-date. One of the most realistic ways to do so is for the governmental entity to conduct regular periodic reviews of internal policies and procedures to confirm not only that they are correctly tracking changes to the law but also that they are sufficient to address the growing needs and size of the community served by the governmental entity.
Also, in particularly sensitive areas of the law, such as confinement, it may be worth the expense of working with an expert or consultant who can assist the governmental entity in identifying any weaknesses in its current policies and procedures and in drafting new policies and procedures to better and more completely address those areas.
A governmental entity must also bear in mind the responsibilities it owes to its employees in its capacity as an employer. In this regard, it may be worthwhile to engage the services of a labor and employment attorney to draft an employee handbook. If one is already in place, the attorney can review the existing handbook to be certain that the governmental entity’s employment practices are in compliance with applicable state and federal law.
After ensuring that its internal policies and procedures are accurate and up-to-date, and most certainly after making any changes to its internal policies and procedures, a governmental entity must ensure that its employees receive sufficient training. After all, if there are policies and procedures in place but an employer fails to provide its employees with training, the employee’s lack of training may result in the failure to follow protocol and give rise to liability.
Separate and apart from any internal policies and procedures, a governmental entity should also be diligent in ensuring that its employees are familiar with and sufficiently trained on state and federal laws that may not be part of the entity’s policies and procedures manual but that impact not only the decisions they make but also how they carry out those decisions, whether that be the decision to terminate a county employee, arrange care for an inmate, or effectuate an arrest.
While it is impossible to enact protocols for and organize training on every conceivable scenario that may be encountered by a governmental employee, governmental entities should certainly aim to enact protocols and schedule training sessions that adequately address those scenarios that its employees are likely to encounter in the course of their day-to-day activities. This is especially true for those employees, such as law enforcement officers, whose job responsibilities involve complex or complicated areas of the law and whose failure to properly execute the law could result in the award of significant damages.
Any resources devoted to ensuring that policies and procedures are up-to-date and that employees are adequately trained are well worth the investment and are sure to advance the goal of limiting the governmental entity’s exposure to liability.
Kelly Telfeyan is an attorney with the Nashville office of Dickinson Wright, PLLC. Kelly can be reached at KTelfeyan@dickinsonwright.com.