When an employee of a private business causes an auto accident, the victim can seek to hold the employer accountable under the legal principle of vicarious liability. What happens when the employee works for a local government? In that scenario, it is still possible to hold the public employer accountable, but there are a number of procedural hurdles that the victim must clear first.
Green v. Baldwin County Board of Commissioners
A May 5 decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Green v. Baldwin County Board of Commissioners, illustrates the difficulty such hurdles can pose. This case involves a June 2015 auto accident in Baldwin County. The plaintiff was stopped at an intersection when a police car driven by a sheriff’s deputy rear-ended her.
Two years after the accident, in May 2017, the plaintiff sued the deputy as well as the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners. Both defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit. They argued that the plaintiff failed to comply with Georgia state law, which requires advanced (or ante litem) notice of her lawsuit within one year of the accident. And in any event, such notice should have been made to the Baldwin County sheriff, not the Board of Commissioners.
The trial court agreed with the defense and granted its motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed. In its opinion, the appeals court said that “as a matter of law a county cannot be held vicariously liable for the actions of a deputy sheriff.” The only party who could be held vicariously liable was the sheriff. Since the plaintiff never provided the required notice to the sheriff, she could not sue him, either.
The plaintiff insisted the notice period could be stopped or “tolled” to give her time to comply. But the Court of Appeals rejected that argument. It noted the Supreme Court of Georgia, in addressing a case earlier this year, held that ante litem notice periods could not be tolled under Georgia law.
Different Notice Requirements for Different Levels of Government
It is worth noting that Georgia has different ante litem notice rules for different types of government agencies. For example, in cases like Green where the defendant is a county, notice must be made within 12 months of the victim’s injury. If the defendant is a city or municipality, the notice must be made within six months.
Like counties, claims against the State of Georgia (or one of its agencies) are also subject to a 12-month notice requirement. However, the state notice requirements are much stricter than those involving a county. The state notice must provide certain specific information and follow a particular form of service. The rules governing county notice are somewhat less stringent.
Once again, it is important to remember that ante litem notice only applies when you are suing a government agency or subdivision. It does not apply to claims against private parties. Of course, those lawsuits must still comply with Georgia’s normal statute of limitations, which requires filing a personal injury claim within two years of an accident.