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Georgia Supreme Court Rules in Favor of State University in Premises Liability Case

Plaintiffs who are injured on another’s property, due to a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall incident, may consider bringing an action against the owner to recover damages for injuries sustained. Depending on the circumstances of the case, including the potential defendants involved, there are many important legal issues to take into account. For example, if any of the defendants is a state entity, it may be able to assert a defense of sovereign immunity. But Georgia law provides for a limited waiver of the State’s immunity in tort actions. These cases are fact-specific, and the results may vary depending on the situation. If you have been injured on another’s property, you may be entitled to compensation for your suffering and losses. It is important that you contact an injury lawyer from the Atlanta area, who is fully aware of the local laws and procedures affecting your particular case.

When a party has a potential tort claim against the State, that person is required to provide the State with notice of the claim prior to filing the suit. The purpose of the law is to make certain that the State receives sufficient notice of the claim in order to facilitate settlement before a lawsuit is filed. Therefore, if a plaintiff fails to satisfy the notice requirements, the State does not waive sovereign immunity, and a court would lack subject matter jurisdiction over the case. Over time, Georgia courts have held that strict compliance with the notice statute is necessary.

In a recent Georgia Supreme Court case, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia v. Myers, the plaintiff was injured after stepping in an un-repaired pothole in a parking lot of a college campus that is part of the University System of Georgia. The plaintiff sent a notice of claim to the defendant, the University System’s Board of Regents (the “Board”), under the Georgia Tort Claims Act. The plaintiff’s notice alleged a negligence claim against the Board, due to the unsafe condition of the parking lot at the College. While the plaintiff described the ensuing injury as a fractured ankle and torn tendons, she did not state the amount of the loss, since she was still incurring medical bills and was unsure of the extent of her injury.

The parties disagreed on settlement terms, and the plaintiff filed suit, seeking damages for past and future medical costs, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of earning capacity. The Board moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the plaintiff’s notice did not contain the “amount of loss claimed,” as required by the statute. The trial court granted the Board’s motion, concluding that the plaintiff’s action was barred by sovereign immunity, since she did not strictly comply with the notice requirements under the Tort Claims Act.

The court of appeals reversed, finding the plaintiff’s notice to be sufficient, since at the time of filing she did not know the full extent of her loss because she was still receiving treatment. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed again and held that the plaintiff’s notice did not adhere to the State’s requirement because it did not state an amount of loss at all. The Court acknowledged that the plaintiff could not know the full extent of her losses at the time of filing, but she should have set forth the amount of her medical expenses at that time, including a statement that there would be future pain and suffering and lost wages later. Since she failed to comply with the statutory notice provisions, the Court held that the State did not waive its sovereign immunity.

This case illustrates the importance of knowing and understanding the local laws and how they apply to personal injury cases. In any slip-and-fall case, it is important to consult with a local injury attorney who can prepare your case in a manner to achieve the best possible result under the circumstances. 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 your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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