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Lawsuits Against the Government

Suing a city, county or the State can be difficult because of various immunities as well as strict notice requirements with time limits that run out long before the Statute of Limitations; the dreaded ante litem notice.

Bringing a claim against a governmental entity in Georgia such as a city, county, or the state itself comes with additional pitfalls that aren’t a concern with garden variety injury cases against individual defendants. For instance, Georgia law requires any prospective plaintiff that may bring a claim against a government entity to provide that entity with notice of the potential claim prior to filing suit. Such notice, known as the ante litem notice, must be served on the appropriate entity pursuant to the time frame and specifications required by statute.

Georgia has three separate statutes that govern service of ante litem notices, all of which require service in a significantly short time frame than the standard two-year statute of limitations for most injury cases: (1) O.C.G.A. § 36-33-5 applies to claims brought against cities and requires the notice be filed within six months of the incident in question; (2) O.C.G.A. § 36-11-1 applies to claims against counties and requires the notice be filed within 12 months; and lastly, (3) O.C.G.A. § 50-21-26 applies to the state and requires notice be filed within 12 months of the date of loss.

Failure to file the required ante litem notice in the appropriate form and by the applicable deadline can have dire consequences for the case. In many situations, failure to comply with the provisions of the ante litem statutes is akin to missing the statute of limitations. Once the filing deadline has passed, there is little or nothing that can be done to correct the error, and the case is barred.

By way of example, I was recently reading about a case with an ante litem notice problem. The claim was against a municipal police department that failed to properly restrain an individual inside the rear of police van. When the van had to stop suddenly while traveling at a high rate of speed, the individual was thrown from the seat and suffered severe injuries. An ante litem notice should have been filed within six months of this incident to preserve the claim; however, such notice was never filed. Even though the city was aware of the claimant’s injuries due to the police report, various witness statements, and an online complaint form that had been submitted to the police department, the Court hearing this matter granted the city’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that the failure to file the formal ante litem notice barred the plaintiff’s case against the city. Given this type of strict interpretation, then, the best practice is to file the appropriate ante litem notice as soon as possible anytime there is even a slight chance that a potential claim exists against a governmental entity.

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