Burton v. Hawkins, et al.Annotate this Case
In May 2018, Howard Cole Burton ("Cole") and Nicholas Hood ("Nicholas") were Auburn University students enrolled in the field-camp course offered by the Department of Geosciences. As part of that geology course, students participated in a series of field exercises, including traveling to geologically significant sites in Alabama. One of the geologically significant sites in Alabama is known as "the Gadsden site," considered a "world-renowned example of a foreland-fold-and-thrust belt." Before the field-exercise portion of the course began, the faculty conducted an informational meeting to brief the students on safety and the specifics of what they could expect to encounter during the field exercises. At that meeting, the students were told to wear bright colors during field exercises for the purpose of staying visible to drivers when near a roadway and to hunters when in a wooded area. No safety cones, signs, or flags were placed along the section of the highway where the group was conducting the field exercise to alert oncoming traffic as to the presence of the group. The students began working on the field exercise approximately 12 to 15 feet from the edge of the highway. Jennifer Fulkerson was driving southbound on Highway 431 in an impaired state and under the influence of several prescription medications. Fulkerson's driver's side tires ran off the highway into the median, causing Fulkerson to react and overcorrect, ultimately striking Cole and Nicholas. Cole suffered severe injuries, and Nicholas died approximately one month after the accident from the injuries he had sustained. Caitlin Hood, as the personal representative of Nicholas's estate, and Cole individually sued Fulkerson, among others, asserting various claims arising out of the accident. At issue in this appeal was whether the University faculty were entitled to State-agent immunity from suit. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the University defendant were indeed entitled to such immunity, and affirmed summary judgment entered by the trial court in defendants' favor.