Category: Car Wrecks

Holding a government employee responsible for injuries in Georgia: Ante litem notices

 

If you’re hurt by a police officer involved in a high-speed pursuit or county employee negligently driving a government truck, you must follow a complicated set of procedures to recover for your injuries. This is because the government and/or its employees are protected under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Not closely following these procedures will cause you to quickly lose your claim on a technicality.

The blog deals with the very first requirement, which is sending an ante litem notice. An ante litem notice is a letter sent to the government entity that describes the details of the incident, explains why the government entity is responsible, and states the injuries sustained. In theory, an ante litem notice is required to give the government entity an opportunity to timely investigate the allegations. With few exceptions, failure to timely send an ante litem notice to the correct entity ends a claim for injuries.

Generally, claims vary by the type of government entity: for example, counties, cities/municipalities, state entities, or federal entities. Below is a quick overview of some basic aspects of ante litem notice requirements.

With respect to a county entity (for example, a county sheriff’s office), an ante litem notice must be presented within 12 months of the injury. Each county is set up a little differently, but generally notice should go to the county attorney and county board of commissioners. With respect to a city or municipality, an ante litem notice must be presented within six months of the injury. Notice is normally sent to the mayor and the city attorney. Ante litem notices to the State of Georgia must be presented within twelve months after the injury. The notice must be delivered to the Risk Management Division of the Department of Administrative Services as well as the government office that is the basis for the claim. Finally, claims against the Federal Government and/or its employees requires submitting a Form 95 administrative claim to the responsible federal agency within two years of the injury.

Even though in our 20 plus years of practicing law we’ve personally never known a government agency take any action in response to an ante litem notice, Georgia courts strictly apply these rules and they must be carefully followed.

Langley: Important New Personal Injury Case

Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC, A18A0193 (May 1, 2018), just issued by the Georgia Court of Appeals, may have a big impact on many future Georgia personal injury cases. Langley involves a residential landlord-tenant relationship in which a tenant sued her landlord for injuries more than a year after the injuries occurred. Normally, in Georgia, an injured party has two years to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, in this case, the landlord moved to dismiss the case because the lease provided only one year to sue the landlord.  This is the exact language in the lease:

Limitation on Actions. To the extent allowed by law, Resident also agrees and understands that any legal action against Management or Owner must be instituted within one year of the date any claim or cause of action arises and that any action filed after one year from such date shall be time barred as a matter of law.

Focusing on the word any, the Court of Appeals ruled that any legal action included not only breach of contract claims but also personal injury claims. Thus, the lease trumped Georgia’s statute of limitations. The Court reasoned that parties should be free to enter into contracts without interference from the courts.

At Gomez & Golomb, we practice personal injury and real estate litigation. Thus, for us, Langley cuts both ways. It’s bad for our personal injury clients, but good for our real estate and corporate clients. From now on, in personal injury cases, we will be looking even more closely at applicable contracts for language that may limit injury claims. For our real estate and corporate clients, we will be advising them that Langley opens the door to include terms in their contracts that limit liability.

Negligence law in Georgia

What is negligence law? At the risk of sounding overdramatic, at Gomez & Golomb LLC, we believe negligence law is similar to the golden rule, which is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Here is why.

Long ago, the first laws developed to discourage citizens from intentionally harming each other. Under this system, when someone intentionally harms another, the state prosecutes the responsible person. If found guilty, the state puts the person in jail.

But what about when someone unintentionally harms another? Clearly, it would be unfair to put someone in jail for conduct that lacked intent, but, at the same time, it would also be unfair to the injured person if there were no consequences? As a middle ground, we created a set of rules known as negligence law in which a negligent party isn’t prosecuted or jailed for wrongdoing, but is liable for the monetary damages caused to the harmed party. In other words, as we go about our daily business in our communities, we are obligated to act in a manner consistent with that of an ordinarily prudent and reasonable person. Georgia law confirms this principle. See O.C.G.A. § 51-1-2.

The personal injury cases we handle at Gomez & Golomb LLC all involve negligence. This means the responsible parties harmed our clients but did so without any intent. Examples of cases we’ve worked on are drivers who didn’t pay close enough attention to the road, manufacturers who design products without attention to safety, or doctors who provide medical treatment that isn’t as good as it should be.  None of these parties woke up with up plans to harm to anyone, but, for various reasons, each acted in a way that a careful, responsible, and reasonable person would not.

In our view, our society is better off when someone who intentionally harms another is put in jail and someone who unintentionally harms another is responsible for paying for the damages. While not everyone agrees with this system, and there is no doubt abuse, the alternative is a society without incentive to treat each other as each of us would like to be treated (the golden rule).

At Gomez & Golomb LLC, we see our job as making sure our clients are fairly compensated for legitimate injuries sustained because another person or entity failed to act responsibly.

Venue in a Trucking Case

In a recent dispute over where a wrongful death lawsuit should be tried, the plaintiff made the winning argument against a commercial trucking company. Natasha Blakemore as Mother of Natroya Hulbert v. Dirt Movers, Inc. et al., A17A1540 (January 11, 2018). The plaintiff argued that the case should be tried in the county where the injury took place, while the trucking company argued it had the right to remove the case to the county where its office was located.

The two statutes at issue were O.C.G.A. §§ 40-1-117(b) and 14-2-510(b)(4). O.C.G.A. § 40-1-117(b) is part of the Georgia Motor Carrier Act, which are the statutes that govern commercial motor carriers. That statute says an injured party who sues a motor carrier can bring the case in the county where the injury occurred regardless of where the motor carrier is located. In contrast, O.C.G.A. § 14-2-510(b)(5), which governs corporations, says that, regardless of where the injuries occurred, a corporation is entitled to have the case adjudicated in the county where it maintains its principal place of business.

Here, Dirt Movers, Inc. argued that O.C.G.A. § 14-2-510(b)(5) should apply even if venue was proper under O.C.G.A. § 40-1-117(b). The Court of Appeals disagreed. Holding that if venue was proper under both O.C.G.A. §§ 40-1-117(b) and 14-2-510(b)(4), which was true here, the plaintiff was entitled to bring her lawsuit in the county where the injuries occurred.

Nice try by the trucking company, but the case will go forward in the county where the injuries occurred.

Recover punitive damages in Georgia (even without injuries)

Punitive Damages: Generally

If you’re involved in an car wreck and the conduct of the party who caused the collision was reckless and intentional, you may be entitled to punitive damages. The two most common examples of misconduct that warrant punitive damages are hit and run and drunk driving. Also, whether the offending party has a history of reckless driving is an important factor. The purpose of of punitive damages isn’t to make the injured party whole, but rather to send a forceful message to the offending party and the public that reckless driving won’t be tolerated. Probably everyone can agree that limiting reckless driving is a worthwhile undertaking.

O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b) provides that “[p]unitive damages may be awarded in such actions in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.”  O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(c) further states that punitive damages “shall be awarded not as compensation to a plaintiff but solely to punish, penalize, or deter a defendant.”

Leaving the scene and driving under the influence are examples of of wilful misconduct, wantonness, and that want of care that shows conscious indifference to the consequences. According to O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(f), in these situations, a jury is entitled to award the injured party unlimited punitive damages:

In a tort case in which the cause of action does not arise from product liability, if it is found that the defendant acted, or failed to act, with the specific intent to cause harm . . . there shall be no limitation regarding the amount which may be awarded as punitive damages . . .”

Punitive Damages: Property Damage Claims

In Georgia, punitive damages are recoverable in a property damage claim even if there are no injuries. Bowen v. Waters, 170 Ga. App. 65 (1984), aff’d, 175 Ga. App. 884 (1985) (“While an award of punitive damages is authorized only where a tortfeasor’s conduct is of an aggravated nature, such an award may properly be based upon an aggravated tort involving only property rights.”).

At Gomez & Golomb, unlike some others, we’re not a cookie cutter personal injury law firm. We devote our full attention to each case so that we maximize your recovery. If you’re in a collision, please call us to discuss whether your case is the type that might justify punitive damages, and what other damages you might be entitled to.