January 25, 2009
By Bob Coleman
Coleman, Chambers, Rogers & Williams, LLP
I was injured earlier this year when a truck hit me at an intersection. I've since learned that this was a county-owned truck and the driver is a county employee. Will the fact he was working for the county at the time affect my claim against this driver?
Quite possibly. And the fact you say this accident happened "about a year ago" means you may need to act quickly to preserve your claim against the county. Georgia law sets out specific rules for when and how you must notify a county, city or state government of your intent to bring a legal action. The legal term for this is an ante litem notice, a notification of your intent to bring a claim. If indeed this is a county employee, you may need to file a claim soon, as state law provides that you have only 12 months to give the county notice, or your claim is barred. That means if you wait more than a year to properly notify the county, you may lose your right to bring your claim.
Whenever you have a possible legal action against a government agency or employee, it's critical that you notify your attorney about this sooner rather than later. Georgia law lays out specific requirements for when and how you need to bring a lawsuit against a city, county or state agency. Don't wait several months to act, or you may find your chance to get your day in court has passed you by.
How do you know when to contact the government and how to notify them?
The laws regarding notice procedures and filing lawsuits against cities, counties and state agencies are laid out in Georgia's statutory code, the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. Your attorney will need to make sure he or she follows these procedures to the letter in order to preserve your right to bring your claim.
Here's a summary of how the notice requirements break down:
County claims: O.C.G.A. § 36-11-1
The statute covering county claims requires all claims to be "presented" within twelve months after your injury. In other words, you must notify the county in writing of your intent to file a lawsuit within a year of your injury, and lay out basic information of the reason for your claim. The statute only requires that the county receive "sufficient information" about your potential claim, in order to give county officials and legal counsel an opportunity to investigate the claim and gather evidence prior to suit.
City claims: O.C.G.A. § 36-33-5
Claims against a city have stricter guidelines than a county claim. According to the city statute, you must provide a written ante litem notice to the city within six months of your injury. Unlike county claims, the statute requires that the notice lay out the time, place and extent of the injury to be sufficient. You can skip the ante litem notice if you bring your actual lawsuit within six months of the injury.
State claims: O.C.G.A § 50-21-26.
The laws governing state claims are more strict than the laws for cities and counties. You must provide ante litem notice within twelve months of your injury. The notice must also be written, and hand delivered or mailed (via either certified or overnight delivery), to both the Risk Management Division of the Department of Administrative Services, and the government office that is the basis for the claim.
While the state attorney general does not have to receive the ante litem notice, he does have to be properly served with a copy of the lawsuit once you bring the actual claim.
The important thing for you to remember is that a lawsuit which potentially involves a government employee or agency could have additional requirements for when and how you can pursue your claim. Whenever you suspect you were on government property at the time of your accident, or your injuries were caused by a government employee or official, bring this to your attorney's attention immediately. If you wait too long - six months for a city or twelve months for a county or the state - you may be prevented from bringing a legal claim at all.