After you have been in an accident, it is critical to gather as much information as you can about what happened. Every little detail may prove crucial if and when you file a personal injury claim against the responsible parties. If possible, you should use your smartphone to take photos of the accident scene and take down the names and contact information of any witnesses. Most importantly, write down every detail that you can remember. Memory becomes more unreliable as time passes, especially if you have been seriously injured, so never assume that you will accurately recall key facts later.
All of these admonitions are even more important if your accident involved negligence on the part of a state or municipal agency. Under Georgia law, before pursuing any personal injury claim against the government, you must first provide an advance (or ante-litem) notice to the relevant agency “stating the time, place, and extent of the injury, as nearly as practicable.” If a victim does not make this notice within six months of the accident, he or she cannot pursue their claim in court.
Williams v. City of Atlanta
Even if the notice is given in a timely manner, it may still be rejected for lack of specificity. Here is a recent example from a case involving the City of Atlanta. The plaintiff in this case allegedly “tripped and fell on a water maintenance hole” maintained by the City. The plaintiff reported his accident to the Atlanta Police Department the following day, at which time he identified the location of the accident as a particular street address near the intersection of Chappell Road and Mayson Turner Road.
Within the six-month period, the plaintiff sent notice to the City of a claim for injuries he sustained in the fall. In the notice, the plaintiff referred to a different street address than the one he gave to the police. He also did not mention the specific intersection. But after he filed suit, the plaintiff again referred to the original street address he gave the police.
The City, however, relied on the address given in the notice. It said there was “no record of a water meter at that location.” In fact, there was at least 0.3 miles between the address it received and the actual location of the plaintiff’s accident.
Consequently, the trial court ruled the plaintiff’s notice was defective and granted summary judgment to the City. The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling. As the appeals court explained, the purpose of the notice requirement is to “provide the municipality with an opportunity to investigate before litigation is commenced so as to determine whether suit can be avoided.”
Here, the plaintiff’s notice did not “provide enough information for the City” to do a proper investigation. The fact that the notice gave a location that was “geographically close to the Actual Address” of the accident was insufficient. It was “unreasonable” to expect the City to “guess as to the correct location,” especially since there are a “high number of water meters” in the area.