Negligent Inspection Claim on Georgia County Road

In a recent case, a husband and wife each filed a negligence lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) and others. DOT asked the court to dismiss. It argued the claims were barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity and claimed it owed no duty to the plaintiffs. The trial court dismissed the couple’s claims of negligent inspection and granted summary judgment on the other claims.
The couple was injured because the husband drove the car onto what he remembered had been a street, which was actually a grassy place where the road had been. A road construction project was happening there and the county road was rerouted away from what had been a street. The couple continued along and was plunged into a ditch.
The couple argued the trial court should not have dismissed their claims because DOT had waived immunity on a negligent design claim and therefore also waived immunity on negligent inspection claims.
The appellate court explained that the Georgia legislature is permitted to waive a state’s sovereign immunity. However, this waiver must be specific and limited. The state only becomes liable under those specific limits. Someone who wants to benefit from the waiver bears the burden of proving waiver.
The state does not have liability for losses from conduct by officers or employees that isn’t within the scope of official duties. An exception to that waiver of sovereign immunity occurs from inadequate inspections of non-state property.
Accordingly, the trial court had granted the motion to dismiss with regard to the negligent inspection claim. The couple argued that DOT’s waiver of sovereign immunity in OCGA § 50-21-24 (10) for losses arising out of construction design not prepared in substantial compliance with standards of engineering or design effective at the time they were prepared created a waiver as to negligent inspection.
The appellate court disagreed. It referenced an earlier case where it had held that whether designs complied with standards was a question of fact for the jury. In that case, it had also affirmed a grant of summary judgment in connection with the plaintiff’s claim of negligent approval of the disposal site for excess fill soil or negligent inspection of the site.
The couple had misinterpreted the case to mean that a waiver of immunity on a claim meant immunity was waived on all cases. The couple also cited to other cases for this rule, but the appellate court explained the couple had misconstrued those cases.
The couple had also argued that the court should not have granted summary judgment on the grounds that DOT owed them a duty to install a curb, gutter, or warning signs. They argued that there was a question of fact about whether the accident occurred on a commercial driveway.
The appellate court explained that the trial court had ruled whether or not the accident happened on a commercial driveway, the accident didn’t happen on the part of the highway where DOT owed drivers a duty.
The couple further argued that DOT had failed to use accepted standards of engineering and design with regard to a curb and gutter on the road. DOT argued it was a county road, so no duty was owed. The appellate court agreed with DOT. Counties bore responsibility for the county road system. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal and summary judgment.
If you are hurt due to negligence, you may be able to recover compensation for your losses. 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.
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