Articles Posted in Government Liability

Sometimes, accidents happen out of pure chance or bad luck, with no one to blame. Often, however, accidents resulting in injuries are preventable and caused by someone else’s negligence. In these cases, Georgia law allows the victim, hurt because of someone else’s actions, to file suit to recover monetary damages. Damages in a Georgia personal injury accident can cover past and future medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and more. For this reason, these civil suits are incredibly important to victims and their families in the aftermath of an accident, especially a costly one. Thus, plaintiffs must understand all the rules governing personal injury lawsuits fully, because one mistake could result in the case being dismissed, and the plaintiff barred from recovery.

One of the important aspects of filing a suit to keep in mind is the rules governing notice. Plaintiffs, when they file a lawsuit, are required to notify the other party. The rules of notice may change depending on the defendant. For instance, in Georgia, a plaintiff filing a suit against a city must do so per Georgia Code § 36-33-5-(e). This notice must be ante litem, or given in advance of the filing of the case. This means plaintiffs have to let the city know they intend on suing the city before the actual lawsuit can be filed. This notice must include a number of specific things, and failure to properly notify a city properly will result in the claim being dismissed, regardless of what the city did.

For example, take a recent Georgia Appellate case. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was injured when she attended a street festival in the city. During this festival, she stepped into a hole in a crosswalk area and suffered a broken leg, requiring surgery and physical therapy. According to the plaintiff, residents complained about this hole to the city previously, but the city failed to fix it. The plaintiff, intending to sue the city for negligence, filed a complaint and provided ante litem notice to the city. However, the court ultimately dismissed her case, because she failed to include everything needed in the notice. Specifically, OCGA § 36-33-5 (e) requires a plaintiff to include the specific amount of monetary damages sought from the city, and the plaintiff only said that “the value may exceed $300,000.00.” Because of this, the plaintiff’s case was dismissed and she was unable to proceed in her suit against the city, even though she had been injured.

The procedural rules for filing a Georgia negligence lawsuit can be complex, and are always important for a plaintiff to follow. However, strict compliance with procedural requirements is especially important when a plaintiff seeks damages from a government entity. A recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals affirming the dismissal of a personal injury claim filed against the state of Georgia should serve as a reminder of this importance.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a woman who alleged that she was injured as a result of an escalator malfunction while attending an Atlanta Falcons game at the Georgia Dome in the fall of 2015. The woman claimed the operators of the Georgia Dome were negligent by failing to maintain and inspect the escalator, and she was seriously injured by the malfunction. The plaintiff sued the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which is the state government entity that operates the Georgia Dome, requesting over $6 million in damages as compensation for her injuries and loss.

Before a trial was held over the plaintiff’s claim, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, alleging that the plaintiff’s complaint did not comply with the Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA), which is the state law outlining the standards for procedural requirements for a negligence claim against a government entity in the state of Georgia. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit, ruling that the plaintiff’s complaint did not give adequate notice to the defendant of the nature of the claim, as required under the GTCA. The plaintiff appealed the ruling to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Recently, an appeals court issued an opinion addressing governmental immunity in Georgia personal injury lawsuits. The lawsuit stems from the tragic death of a five-year-old boy who died after being struck and killed when exiting a school bus.

According to the opinion, the bus driver stopped the bus near the child’s home, and then activated the vehicle’s flashing lights, stop sign, and crossing gate. The child was previously instructed to look back at the bus driver before crossing the double-yellow line. However, the boy stepped off the bus, saw his mother, and started to cross the road without looking back. As the boy stepped off the bus, the bus driver saw an oncoming truck, at which point she honked the horn and waved to the child. Unfortunately, it was too late and the boy was struck and killed by the oncoming vehicle.

The family filed a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit against the bus driver, claiming that she was negligent in allowing the child off the bus without assuring that there was no traffic. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the bus driver based on governmental immunity. The plaintiffs argued that governmental immunity should not bar their case because the driver had a duty to keep students on the bus until all of the traffic stopped. The plaintiffs claimed that this duty was “ministerial” and “absolute”; therefore, governmental immunity should not apply.

In a recent Georgia personal injury case, the parents of a young man sued the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice alleging that their son was injured while he was detained at a youth detention facility. The parents alleged that an employee at the facility negligently closed an automatic steel door, causing the son’s finger to be amputated. Within a month of their son’s injury, the parents provided an ante litem notice to the Department. The notice did not provide an exact amount of loss claimed, but stated that the son required surgery, amputation, and continuing treatment. The notice also indicated that the boy’s mother had to miss work to bring her son in for medical treatment, so there would be “additional claims for monetary loss and mileage.” The claim further stated, “please advise if this ante litem notice is not sufficient to apprise you of the claims.”

The parents later filed a lawsuit, and the Department argued that the parents’ ante litem notice did not include the specific amount of loss claimed, as required under the Georgia Tort Claims Act. The trial court dismissed the claim on that basis, and the parents appealed. On appeal, the parents argued that their notice was sufficient, and that the court should not have dismissed the claim.

The Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA) allows for a waiver of the state’s immunity under certain circumstances. Under the GTCA, one prerequisite to filing a claim against the State is to provide notice of the claim to the State before filing suit. Under OCGA § 50-21-26, the notice must include the name of the state entity, the acts that are the basis for the claim, the time and place of the injury, the specific acts that caused the loss, the nature of the loss suffered, and the amount of the loss claimed.

In a recent Georgia car accident case before a state appellate court, the plaintiff filed claims arising out of a car accident that killed her husband and seriously injured her son. She filed a claim against the local Emergency Medical Services (EMS), alleging that they failed to properly treat her husband’s and son’s injuries. She also filed a claim against the local County Road Superintendent (Superintendent), alleging that he failed to inspect and maintain the road. Both defendants claimed they were entitled to immunity. The trial court agreed, dismissing the claims against them, and the plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the court considered whether the defendants were protected by immunity.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s husband was driving with his 12-year-old son in Atkinson County when he hit a hole in the road, and after he regained control of the truck, he hit a second hole and crashed into a tree. EMS responded to the scene and found the husband trapped on the driver’s side, and the son seated on the passenger side. The son allegedly told one emergency medical technician (EMT) to check on his father who was unconscious, but the EMT told him that they had to “get [him] out first.” The EMT told the son to jump off the truck, and when he said he could not jump, the EMT told him that jumping was the way he would get off. The son did so, and “had to walk” to the stretcher. However, the EMT who assisted the son testified that he picked up the son, laid him onto a stretcher, and carried him to the ambulance. The father was unconscious but breathing, and was removed from the truck, but stopped breathing while he was in the ambulance. EMS tried to resuscitate the husband, but he died of his injuries.

If a lawsuit is filed against a public entity or a public official, the public entity or official may be protected by official immunity. A public official is protected by official immunity if the official “has engaged in discretionary acts that are within the scope of his or her authority, and the official has not acted in a willful or wanton manner; with actual malice; or with the actual intent to cause injury.” In contrast, official immunity does not protect against ministerial acts that are performed negligently. Generally, ministerial acts are acts that are “simple, absolute, and definite,” and require “merely the execution of a specific duty.” In contrast, discretionary acts are acts that “call for the exercise of personal deliberation and judgment,” and acting on one’s own conclusions “in a way not specifically directed.”

In a recent Georgia personal injury case before the state’s appeals court, the plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident as a man was fleeing from the police. The plaintiff subsequently filed a claim against the Georgia Department of Public Safety (the State), and the State moved to dismiss the complaint because it claimed the plaintiff failed to serve the State with a proper ante litem notice within one year of the crash.

The plaintiff claimed that the statute of limitations should have been tolled while the criminal case against the man who was fleeing from the police was pending. The State argued that the statute of limitations should not be tolled in this case, because the mandate under OCGA § 50-21-26 (a) is a notice requirement rather than a statute of limitations.

The Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations refers to the time during which a legal action must be filed. The applicable statute of limitations varies depending on the type of the claim and where it is filed. If a case is filed after the applicable statute of limitations has expired, the case will likely be dismissed, and a plaintiff will be precluded from recovering for their injuries.

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