Injury victims who are hurt as a result of the negligence of an employee of a government agency or municipality face additional hurdles in seeking recovery for their loss. A state appellate court recently released a decision in a Georgia premises liability case, siding with a Georgia city and illustrating this point. As a result of the recent ruling, the injured plaintiffs will be unable to pursue their claim against the city.
The plaintiffs in the recently decided case are a group of people who were injured when a dock ramp owned by the city of Savannah collapsed while the plaintiffs were waiting to board a ferry that was alleged to be a part of the city’s municipal road system. The dock collapse injured several people, who filed suit against the city and municipal transit authority operating the ferry, alleging that they negligently operated the ferry system. Before trial, the city disputed its liability for the claim, alleging that as a municipality it was immune from a negligence lawsuit. The trial court ruled against the city’s motion, finding that under Georgia law, a city can be sued for failure to maintain public roads, which includes ferries.
The city appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals of Georgia, claiming that they had sovereign immunity from the suit under Georgia law. The appellate court agreed with the lower court that the ferry system, and therefore the dock that collapsed, were part of the public road system as required by state law for the city to waive sovereign immunity. However, the court went on to find that the city ultimately was immune from suit because the city did not have notice of any defect in the ramp, nor should they have noticed it by practicing ordinary care and due diligence in maintaining the ramp and ferry system. Because the plaintiffs presented insufficient evidence to the court to demonstrate that the city should have known about the dangerous ramp, they will not be able to pursue their claim against the city.