Suing State Government In Georgia: Exceptions to Sovereign Immunity

There is a State Tort Claims Act found at O.C.G.A. § 50-21-20, et. seq. The Act resulted from an amendment to the Georgia Constitution and became law in April of 1992. It was intended to provide a remedy for torts committed by State officers and employees and establishes a procedure to waive sovereign immunity under certain circumstances to allow suits against the State for tortious acts of state agents, employees and/or officers. Individual State officers and/or employees may not be named as a party to a lawsuit. Under the State Tort Claims Act, the exclusive remedy for a tort committed by a State employee is an action against the state agency involved and not against the employee personally.
It must be noted that if someone has a claim against a state agency or employee they must file an ante-litem notice with the State. The law is very specific in this regard. Notice must be given in writing by certified mail, return receipt requested or a personal delivery letter to the Risk Management Division of the Department of Administrative Services. Additionally, a copy shall be delivered personally to or mailed by First Class Mail to the State government entity involved in the tort. The Notice also must include certain information in order to be valid. It must state the extent of the claimant’s knowledge and belief as to the basis for liability, the time and place of the transaction or the occurrence out of which the loss arose, the nature of the loss suffered and the amount of loss claimed. Once an ante-litem notice is properly filed with all this information, a claimant cannot file suit against the State of Georgia until either the Department of Administrative Services has denied the claim or more than ninety (90) days has elapsed after presentation of the claim, whichever occurs first.
There are twelve (12) areas of State activity specifically excluded from the State’s waiver of its sovereign immunity which include as follows: Losses resulting from any exercise or performance of a discretionary function; acts or omissions in the execution of statutes, regulations or rules; assessment of tax or detention by law enforcement officers; legislative judicial or prosecutorial actions; civil disturbance or riots; assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, abusive process, liable, slander or interference with contractual rights; inspection powers or functions; licensing powers or functions; highway and other public work designs when prepared in substantial compliance with generally accepted engineering standards.
As is clear from this list of items excluded from the waiver of the State’s sovereign immunity, all cases are factually specific and must be discussed with counsel. It is also clear that the ante-litem notice provisions must be strictly observed otherwise the claim could be forfeited for failure to properly notify the State in advance of filing a claim. In addition, the waiver of sovereign immunity if it is found to exist in a particular case is limited to $1 million per person with the State’s aggregate liability per occurrence not to exceed $3 million regardless of the number of those injured or killed. An example of this is the case against the Georgia DOT involving a bus of baseball players. Even though there were over 30 claims, the total waiver was capped at $1 million for any one player and $3 million for all the claims.

As is true of any other claim predicated upon an alleged waiver of sovereign immunity, it is extremely important that a potential client confer with counsel as soon as possible. In addition to determining whether the State has actually waived its sovereign immunity, attentions must be paid to the content of an ante-litem notice, proper presentation of the claim and the waiting period. Venue for such actions relative to the State Tort Claims Act means that suit must be filed in the State or Superior Court within the State of Georgia where the loss occurred.
Any Complaint filed under the Georgia Tort Claims Act must have a copy of the Notice of Claim presented to the Department of Administrative Services together with a certified mail receipt for other delivery attached as exhibits to the Complaint. This is yet another example of the specific provisions of the Georgia State Tort Claims Act which, if not followed, can result in the case being dismissed. Again, for these and other reasons, counsel should always be retained in these cases.

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