Asserting Claims Against the Government

Any lawyer who has a client with a claim against any branch of government knows full well that there needs to be investigation of that claim in order to be successful in prosecuting it. One of the first steps in the process is to serve a timely ante-litem notice claim within six months of the claims against a municipality or within twelve months if it involves a claim against the State or a county government agency. We have previously blogged about these requirements in other entries. Nonetheless, once counsel has filed a timely ante-litem pre-suit notice of a claim, counsel further needs to use Open Records Act requests available under Georgia law to request any and all documents that will be necessary to prosecute the claim. Some records are exempt from the Open Records Act such as criminal investigative documents in a pending criminal investigation, however, most public government documents can be obtained via an Open Records Act request as they are required to be maintained in the normal course of business.
An example of the type of documentation one might wish to secure via an Open Records Act request would be a request for insurance data for the city or county and other required government policies applicable to the incident. Obviously, the key is to demonstrate that there has either been a waiver of sovereign immunity through the purchase of available insurance coverage and/or the enactment of policies and procedures whereby counsel will be able to argue that there was a breach of a ministerial duty in failing to execute a simple ministerial duty required under local policies, procedures or state law.
Any time there is a potential claim against any governmental entity, sovereign immunity defenses loom large. The courts have been very protective of most governmental agencies and absent an exception to sovereign immunity, counsel will be unsuccessful in helping a client obtain redress for any damages caused by governmental negligence. However, there are numerous exceptions to sovereign immunity and through proper pre-suit investigation and utilization of the Open Records Act request and other investigative techniques, it is still possible in certain circumstances to successfully prosecute a personal injury claim against a government agency or employee. While every case is factually specific, investigation is the key in all of these cases.
Anybody with a claim again a governmental agency should always consult with experienced counsel to make sure that all ante-litem notices are sent out in a timely manner and that a proper investigation is conducted. Absent either, a claim may be lost even if it is potentially viable.

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