Defeating Defenses of Sovereign Immunity

Oftentimes we are asked by clients who have claims against government entities and/or employees to represent their interests in personal injury cases. Regrettably, due to the antiquated and harsh doctrine of sovereign immunity (for legal claims), this many times proves to be a difficult undertaking. Simply stated, sovereign immunity protects many government agencies and employees from lawsuits involving personal injuries. Thankfully, there are some exceptions to the rule, most notably when there is another statute that waives the immunity from suit.
With respect to county immunity, the Georgia Code states that county governments are entitled to sovereign immunity unless liability is imposed upon them by law. See O.C.G.A. § 36-1-4. The only statute that imposes liability upon counties by operation of law is O.C.G.A. § 33-24-51, which allows a waiver of sovereign immunity when a county purchases liability insurance for the negligent use or operation of a government owned motor vehicle. The law used to be that if a government employee ran over someone or ran a stop sign and caused serious personal injuries nothing could be done because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity. As stated, there is now a statute that waives county government immunity in situations involving vehicles. However, if a county employee or agent hurts another person due to a difficult type of negligent act and there is no waiver of sovereign immunity, then there may not be any means of recovery for the innocent victim of the governmental negligence.
Because cases involving sovereign immunity are always factually unique, they require unique legal analysis as well. An ante-litem notice is required for virtually all claims against governmental agencies so anyone with a claim against a county, municipality or state government agency or employee should confer with counsel immediately to preserve their rights. Whether the doctrine of sovereign immunity can be overcome again will be a question of both facts and law, but the sooner the analysis begins, the better, because otherwise claims can be barred altogether for failure to file timely pre-suit notifications with the government agency involved.

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