Personal injury lawsuits are formal legal proceedings seeking compensation against the person or the party that hurt the victim. Sometimes, though, the victim was hurt by a government agency. In these cases, the wrongdoer is the state, city, municipality, or other governmental authority. Holding a state or local government accountable for its negligent or wrongful actions is made difficult because any compensation that they would pay is, technically speaking, taxpayer money that comes from the people who live in the locale.
The personal injury lawyers at the Hadden Law Firm in Atlanta, Georgia, can help victims who have been hurt by the government overcome these obstacles and recover the compensation that they deserve.
Types of Lawsuits Against the City or State
The government offers lots of different services to the residents of Georgia. Anytime one of these services hurts someone, though, the government should be held responsible and liable.
Some of the most common injuries that government services can cause include:
- Dangerous conditions on government property that cause someone to slip and fall and lead to premises liability
- Bus accidents involving a public transit service like MARTA
- Injuries that result from police brutality
- Car accidents caused by poor road maintenance or dangerous road designs, or caused by negligent operation of cars or trucks by government employees
General Notice Requirements in Lawsuits Against Public Defendants
Recovering compensation from the local or state government in any of these situations, though, is made difficult by some important legal requirements that are not present when a lawsuit is filed against a private party, rather than a public one.
One of the most important legal requirements in these cases is to provide notice to the potential government defendant. That notice is satisfied by an Ante Litem letter/notice. This letter has to provide the government with as much information about the incident as possible. It has to include things like:
- What happened
- Where it happened
- When it happened
- Which government agency hurt the victim
- How the victim was hurt
- The anticipated amount of the victim's damages.
That final requirement for the Ante Litem letter – that the letter includes information about the victim's damages – became far stricter in 2014. That year, the Supreme Court of Georgia, in Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia v. Myers, declared that vague statements about the victim's damages were not enough in Ante Litem letters. Thankfully, the victim is not bound by the losses they state at this stage in the lawsuit.
In theory, the Ante Litem notice allows the government agency to review what happened and let them settle the case quickly before the government expends too many resources in defending the case. In reality, it forces victims to act far more quickly than if they were hurt by a private party.
Lawsuits Against the City of Atlanta
When the lawsuit is being filed against the city of Atlanta, the notice requirement comes from Georgia Code § 36-33-5. This statute requires the Ante Litem notice to be sent within six months of the incident and has to be served on either the mayor's office or the chairperson of the city council or commission. The statute provides specific requirements about what is required to be in the letter, and failure to properly adhere to these requirements can mean that a later lawsuit will be dismissed. Once the letter has been sent, the city has 30 days to respond to it.
During this time, the statute of limitations is tolled or delayed until the city responds.
Lawsuits against Counties
Counties are provided with some of the strictest sovereign-immunity protection of any type of government entity in the state, and claims against counties are often difficult, and sometimes impossible, to win. Outside of car and truck accidents (for which both cities and counties waive immunity for a minimum of $500,000 by statute), few state-law claims against counties are likely to be viable. Counties require Ante Litem notice (or, technically, presentment notice, since a lawsuit can serve as notice, unlike with the state or cities) within one year of the date of the injury under Georgia Code § 36-11-1. Cases involving sheriff's vehicles have been deemed separate from counties but nevertheless require Ante Litem notice be given to the sheriff, rather than the county.
Lawsuits Against the State of Georgia
Lawsuits for compensation that are filed against the state of Georgia, on the other hand, have to abide by the notice requirements set out in Georgia Code § 50-21-26. In these cases, the Ante Litem notice has to be filed within one year of the incident and has to be delivered to both the Risk Management Division of the Department of Administrative Services, as well as the state government agency responsible for the victim's injuries. The notice must strictly comply with the statutory requirements or else the lawsuit will be subject to dismissal.
Lawsuits Against other Governmental Entities
Outside of cities, counties, and the state itself, claims against governmental entities can involve a complex analysis of whether Ante Litem notice is required, as well as the extent to which sovereign immunity can be avoided. In cases of schools or certain transit authorities, like MARTA, no such notice applies, and the case is usually governed by the usual two-year statute of limitation. An attorney experienced in governmental claims can determine the specific requirements and the likelihood of success in cases involving the government.
Georgia Personal Injury Lawyers at the Hadden Law Firm
Suing a government agency for compensation after an accident is far more difficult than suing a private party and the notice requirement is a big reason why. Victims need to move quickly to gather the evidence necessary to provide an effective Ante Litem notice. Worse, many people are unaware of this extra step in suing the government and wait too late. Many victims assume that they only have to begin their lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires. If they do not file their Ante Litem notice in time, their case can get dismissed.
The lawyers at the Hadden Law Firm can help victims recover what they need. Contact us online.