In a recent case, a woman appealed the dismissal of a tort claim against the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. The trial court had ruled that her ante litem notice failed to state the amount of loss claimed as required.
The case arose when the woman came to class and stepped on the edge of a pothole that had not been repaired. She got hurt and sought orthopedic care. She started physical therapy and continued with it for two months.
Three and a half months after her injury, the woman sent a notice of claim under OCGA § 50-21-26 to the Georgia Department of Administrative Services. This is what is known as an “ante litem notice.” The ante litem notice noted the woman’s assertion of a negligence claim and explained that she had stepped in a hole, which constituted an unsafe condition, injuring her ankle. The notice stated that the amount of loss had yet to be determined because she didn’t know the full extent of the injury yet.
The Department acknowledged her correspondence and asked for copies of bills and verification of wage loss. She didn’t reply. The Department followed up and demanded settlement. The woman’s attorney sent a demand of $110,000 with a breakdown of her damages. The Department offered only a little over $10,128.24, which represented the woman’s medical expenses.
The woman sued the following month. The Department answered and moved to dismiss asserting a lack of jurisdiction. The Georgia Tort Claims Act (“GTCA”) states that the state is only liable in tort in connection with its principles. GTCA contains a limitation that the tort claim can’t be brought without first giving notice of the claim. It specifies exactly what the notification must contain to be valid.
Among other things, the notice must be in writing, submitted with 12 months of the plaintiff’s discovery of the loss (or the date on which she should have discovered the loss). It must state to the extent of the claimant’s knowledge the name of the state entity being sued, the acts or omissions that give rise to the claim, the time and place of the accident out of which the loss happened, the nature of the loss, and the amount of the loss. The Department argued that the notice was defective in this case because it did not specify the amount of the loss.
The notice is a prerequisite to filing suit. But previously the Georgia Supreme Court had clarified that strict compliance did not mandate a “hyper-technical” interpretation of the statute.
The plaintiff had argued it was sufficient to state that the amount of loss was yet to be determined because the statute required her to state the amount to the extent of her knowledge. She argued she couldn’t possibly know her past and future lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages within the time frame of the ante litem notice.
The appellate court agreed. It explained that the GTCA statement of loss was intended to be as detailed as practicable. The law was written with the awareness that a claimant might not have full information about various aspects of the claim at the time the notice is submitted. The appellate court concluded that the trial court’s dismissal was in error and reversed.
If you are seriously injured because of the negligence of a State agency or entity, you may have grounds for a lawsuit, but there are extra requirements associated with filing. Experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune can evaluate your case and fight for any compensation you may deserve. Contact us at 404-875-7800 or via our online form.