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Georgia Court Denies Fees and Expenses in Premises Liability Case

caution-wet-floor-sign-1-1006453-mParties to personal injury cases often attempt to settle the claims without going through a trial. Depending on the circumstances, settling claims may potentially serve to limit costs and shorten the entire process. But it is important to keep in mind that the settlement stage, like most phases of any negligence action, is highly regulated by state law, and parties must adhere to applicable provisions of the Georgia Code. Failing to comply with these requirements could result in the dismissal of any and all claims.  For a proper assessment of your case, and to ensure that applicable legal provisions are complied with, it is important that you contact an experienced injury attorney from the local Atlanta area.

Section 9-11-68 sets forth the requirements for parties to follow when preparing an offer of settlement for the other side.  First, they must identify the claim or claims that the offer is attempting to resolve.  Second, the offer must state with “particularity” any relevant conditions. This law allows a defendant to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses from the date the plaintiff rejects the offer of settlement through the entry of judgment, if the final judgment is one of no liability. According to Georgia case law, the purpose of the statute has been to encourage litigants in negligence cases to prepare and accept “good faith” settlement proposals, in order to avoid unnecessary litigation.

In a recent premises liability case, involving multiple defendants, Tiller v. RJJB Associates, LLP. (Ga. Ct. of App. 2015), the plaintiff allegedly sustained injuries when she slipped and fell on water located on the tile floor outside a bathroom at her workplace.  She filed a complaint (and subsequently amended it to add another defendant), alleging, among other things, that the defendants were negligent in failing to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe. Two of the defendants, appellees in this case, moved for summary judgment, which the court denied.  As an aside, the court granted a default judgment against a separate defendant, Memorial Associates, LLC.

A month later, the appellees served the plaintiff with an offer to settle under Section 9-11-68. Since she failed to respond within the statutory time period, it was deemed rejected.  The appellees moved for summary judgment a second time, and for attorney fees and litigation costs under the statute.  The trial court granted both motions.  The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the offer of settlement failed to comply with Section 9-11-68.  The court of appeals looked at two issues:  1) whether the offer of settlement identified the the claims or claims to be resolved, and 2) whether the offer stated with particularity any relevant conditions. The court concluded that the appellees’ settlement offer did not comply with these statutory requirements, noting that the offer was “unclear and ambiguous” regarding whether accepting the appellees’ offer would mandate that the plaintiff relinquish her claims against another defendant, Memorial (against which she already had a default judgment).

This case nicely illustrates the need to understand how applicable provisions of Georgia law can affect a plaintiff’s right to a recovery of damages and potential responsibility for costs. Navigating the legal process can become quite complicated.  An experienced injury attorney would be able to assess your claims and ensure that your case is brought within the confines of the law.  Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience representing individuals who have been injured in premises liability incidents in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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