Claims Against Georgia Counties: Waivers of Sovereign Immunity

There are limited waivers of sovereign immunity when it comes victims of the negligence of a county employee. Unless a county’s sovereign immunity has been waived by statute, there is no legal claim that can be filed. An example of a waiver of a county’s sovereign immunity is the waiver of sovereign immunity by law where a county employee is operating a county vehicle. There is a specific Georgia statute which provides for the waiver of sovereign immunity with respect to such claims. See O.C.G.A. § 33-24-51. If a county employee acting within the scope of his or her employment runs a stop sign, for example, and injuries an innocent third party, in such a context there is a waiver of sovereign immunity. However, as is true of other claims involving potential sovereign immunity defenses, an ante-litem notice must be filed against the county within twelve (12) months of the date of the tortious act otherwise it is barred by operation of law. Absent a statutory waiver of sovereign immunity, no claim can be asserted against a county because without a statutory waiver, sovereign immunity is a complete bar to any such claim.
It is possible to file claims against county employees in limited circumstances for the negligent breach of ministerial duties. A ministerial duty does not involve the exercise of discretionary judgment but merely involves following a simple task usually dictated by policy, procedure or statute. Nonetheless, Georgia case law makes clear that whether an act involves a breach of ministerial or discretionary duty will turn on the character of the specific act, not the general nature of the official’s position. All such inquiries are factually specific. Once again, counsel should be contacted as soon as possible in order to assist in making this determination. Suffice it to say, discretionary acts of county employees will be shielded by sovereign immunity and no valid claim will be recognized by the Courts against either a county or county agent or official.
As is true of any other claim involving a potential waiver of sovereign immunity, because the waiver of sovereign immunity against governmental agents and employees is always limited, if anyone has a potential tort claim against a county agent or official, one should confer with counsel as soon as possible in order to determine whether one has a viable claim that comes within an exception to the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

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