A personal injury lawsuit, such as one seeking damages from a car accident, often involves complex questions of law. The complexity only increases exponentially when the the negligent party is a state agency. The Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA) governs all personal injury claims against the state and its employees. Unlike lawsuits against private parties, the GTCA requires a victim provide written notice to the state about any potential claim. A party that fails to strictly comply with every aspect of this pre-suit notice requirement will have their case dismissed without exception.
Silva v. Georgia Department of Transportation
As if to hammer home this point, a panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued two decisions on the same day dismissing GTCA claims for technical non-compliance with the pre-suit notice requirements. In the first case, the victim was rear-ended by a vehicle owned and operated by the Georgia Department of Transportation. In an attempt to comply with the GTCA, the victim’s attorney notified state officials of her claim. When the state did not object to the contents of the notice, the victim sued the state, seeking damages for medical expenses and other losses.
Before the trial court, the state argued the notice was deficient because it did not include “the amount of the loss claimed,” which is expressly required by the GTCA. The plaintiff said she did not include an amount because at the time, she was uncertain as to the extent of her medical bills. The court said that did not matter and dismissed her case. The Court of Appeals affirmed, noting the omission of any dollar amount, even an estimate, rendered the notice “insufficient.”
Callaham v. Georgia Ports Authority
In the second case, the Court of Appeals cited an even smaller technicality. The victim here was injured in a car accident that occurred at a Georgia Ports Authority terminal in Savannah. The victim’s attorney communicated with the Port Authority’s claims adjuster several times following the accident regarding his client’s potential claims. Several months later, the attorney sent a formal notice to the state’s Risk Management Division via certified mail.
The problem here was that the victim did not also formally notify the Port Authority by certified mail. Even though the claims adjuster was already well aware of the claim, the GTCA requires service, either in person or by certified mail, on both the Risk Management Division and the Port Authority. The failure to properly serve the latter required dismissal of the victim’s subsequent personal injury lawsuit, according to the Court of Appeals.
In both cases, the Court of Appeals emphasized the notice requirements of the GTCA cannot be waived by the state. The State of Georgia is immune from any lawsuit against itself without consent. The GTCA constitutes a limited waiver of that immunity that must be strictly construed by the courts. This means that an accident victim’s case, no matter how meritorious, will be kicked out of court if there is even a single technical defect with the required notice.