Meeting Requirements in Georgia for Suing the Government for Wrongful Death

If you suffer an injury or a loved one is killed on public property, the importance of getting a Georgia attorney who understands the requirements of bringing a claim against the government can’t be overstated. Last month, there was a case regarding the ante litem notice requirement. Failure to meet any requirement of this notice can get your case dismissed.

In a recent case, a man individually and as administrator of the estate of Deborah Driscoll appealed the dismissal of tort claims against the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. The trial court had ruled his ante litem notice, putting the Board on notice, and failed to state the amount of loss as the Georgia Tort Claim Act (“GTCA”) OCGA § 50-21-26 (a) (5) (E) required. It granted the Board’s motion to dismiss.

The case arose when Driscoll was killed on the freeway. A wheel from a Georgia State University van came off, crossed the median and hit Driscoll’s windshield. She died at the scene of the accident.
Her estate sent an ante litem notice giving notice of its claim for damages and a few details about the accident, including the name, date, injury, and state entity involved. It asked for an amicable resolution. The estate attorney sent a demand letter asking for the police limits and listing damages including loss of human life and funeral related expenses. No settlement was reached.

The estate filed suit. The Board answered claiming sovereign immunity and moving to dismiss the complaint for failure to meet the ante litem notice requirements.

The trial court granted the motion. Ordinarily the state has sovereign immunity—it cannot be sued for personal injuries. GTCA provides a specific limited waiver of immunity, offering a way for someone to sue a state entity for personal injuries. Among other things, a party must give written notice of its claim, including specific enumerated pieces of information such as the amount of loss claimed.

At a hearing, the estate’s attorney stated his reluctance to be bound by specific amounts in the notice. The statue requires a claimant to provide a statement of loss to the extent of knowledge and belief. It doesn’t bind a claimant firmly to an answer.

Failure to comply with the notice provisions means you cannot file suit. The statute isn’t meant to be read in a hyper-technical way so that a harsh result occurs. However, the State should receive adequate notice so that settlement before filing a lawsuit is possible.

In this case, the ante litem notice did not state anything with respect to the amount of loss. It didn’t note that the extent of loss was unknown or an imprecise amount or even that there was a good faith mistake.  The losses were already complete. The estate was making a claim for a death and there was nothing to prevent the estate from giving the state the value of the loss. The estate sent a demand letter with specific values for human life and death-related expenses.

The court noted that there was minimal prejudice to the government, but the statute’s requirements were plainly unmet and the court couldn’t ignore the estate’s failure to meet a requirement with respect to the ante litem notice, even if the outcome was harsh. The court ruled that the ante litem notice failed to give the requisite notice under OCGA § 50-21-26 (a) (5) (E).

If a loved one is killed, you may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. 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.

More Blog Posts
What is an Ante-Litem Notice in Georgia? February 28, 2014
Proximate Cause in Georgia Car Accidents, February 13, 2014
Tandem Driving Theory of Liability in Georgia Car Accidents, February 4, 2014