Personal injury lawsuits against the State of Georgia or any state agency must strictly comply with the terms of the Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA). The GTCA is a state law that waives Georgia’s normal “sovereign immunity” from lawsuits. Before anyone can file a claim under the GTCA, for instance, the claimant must provide advance notice to the state. This notice must be delivered within one year of the claimant’s injury and needs to include a number of specific items, such as the place where the injury occurred, the “nature of the loss suffered,” and the amount claimed for said injury or loss.
The reasoning behind the notice requirement is to give the state an opportunity to conduct its own investigation into the claimant’s allegations and, where possible, the ability to settle the claim without the need for litigation. This is why it is critical for claimants to provide as much information as required by law.
Bailey v. Georgia World Congress Center
Failure to comply with the notice requirements–at least to a judge’s satisfaction–means the plaintiff’s case will be dismissed, regardless of the underlying merits. A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Bailey v. Georgia World Congress Center, offers a useful illustration. In this case, a plaintiff sued the state agency responsible for operating the Georgia Dome.
The plaintiff attended a Falcons game at the Georgia Dome in October 2015. During this event, the plaintiff alleged the “escalator on which she was riding malfunctioned.” Her subsequent claim against the Georgia Dome alleged it was negligent in its “failure to maintain or inspect the escalator.”
The Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA), the Georgia Dome’s operator, mounted numerous challenges to the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s GTCA notice of her claim. The trial judge ultimately agreed with the GWCCA and dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit. Specifically, the judge found the plaintiff’s notice “did not sufficiently describe the losses raised in her complaint.”
The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial judge. The appeals court noted that while the plaintiff’s notice specified “an amount of damages and indicated that she suffered various types of damage and injury, it did not describe the nature of those injuries” or provide any details. That is to say, while the plaintiff claimed in excess of $6 million in damages, she did not provide any information in her notice “about the specific injuries causing this alleged amount of damage.”
The Court pointed to one of its prior opinions, Williams v. Wilcox State Prison, in which it held a GTCA notice was insufficient where the plaintiff simply stated she “sustained serious injuries” in a slip-and-fall accident on the defendant’s property. Aside from providing an estimate of her medical bills, the notice itself contained no further details. This was not enough, the appeals court said, to comply with the GTCA’s requirement that a notice “specify the nature of the loss” suffered by the claimant. As the Court reiterated in the present case, the GTCA requires strict compliance with all notice terms–“substantial compliance is not sufficient.”