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Providing Notice in a Car Accident Claim Against the Government

Special rules apply if you are injured in a car accident caused by improper maintenance of a public road. You’ll need to provide notice to the government in a very specific way, and failure to do so can result in dismissal of your claim. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, a driver was hurt in a single-car accident on State Route 42. He sued the Georgia Department of Transportation arguing that its improper maintenance of the roadway resulted in too much water accumulating and the accumulation caused his truck to hydroplane into a tree, causing catastrophic injuries.

The Georgia Department of Transportation filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and based on sovereign immunity. It claimed the plaintiff hadn’t complied with the ante litem notice requirements of the Georgia Tort Claims Act. The motion was denied, and the appellate court granted an application for interlocutory appeal.

The appellate court explained that the Georgia Tort Claims Act, found at OCGA section 50-21-20 was enacted to balance strict sovereign immunity against the need for limited exposure of the State treasury to tort liability. The Georgia Tort Claims Act offers a restricted waiver of sovereign immunity in specific cases where a claimant follows the requirements of the Georgia Tort Claims Act. Among other things, these requirements mandate a strict compliance with the ante litem notice provisions of section 50-21-26.

Specifically, nobody having a claim against the state is supposed to sue the State without first providing notice of the claim in writing within 12 months of the date the loss was found or should have been found. Notice of the claim is supposed to be given in writing and mailed to certified mail or statutory overnight delivery with return receipt requested or personally delivered to the Risk Management Division of the Department of Administrative Services.

On appeal, the Georgia Department of Transportation argued that there was an error made in denying the motion to dismiss because the plaintiff hadn’t shown he delivered the notice according to statutory requirements. It argued the lawsuit should be dismissed. The appellate court agreed.

It explained that the plaintiff had sent a letter by certified mail, addressed to the Risk Management Division of the Department of Administrative Services and believed this provided ante litem notice. He also attached a certified mail return receipt, but this showed the card had been delivered to the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation, not the Risk Management Division.

The Georgia Department of Transportation filed a motion to dismiss. It argued that the plaintiff hadn’t properly complied with provisions of the OCGA § 50-21-26. The plaintiff filed an amended complaint that attached a letter from the Risk Management Division that acknowledged receipt of the letter. He argued the letter proved he’d met the requirements of OCGA § 50-21-26 (a) (4) by showing a different kind of receipt. He also submitted a tracking document.

The appellate court disagreed with the plaintiff. It explained that even if the letter was personally delivered by counsel, there was no proof it had been sent to the Risk Management Division. The plaintiff hadn’t complied. The court also explained that another case was directly in point. In that case, the appellate court found that simply because the notice was eventually delivered to the Risk Management Division, that didn’t remove the requirement that the plaintiff comply with the ante litem notice provisions of the law. The appellate court reversed.

Stephen M. Ozcomert possesses over 20 years of experience representing people injured in car accidents 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.