Georgia Supreme Court Sides with State on Amount of Loss Requirement for Pre-Suit Notices

In the early 90’s, the Georgia General Assembly recognized that because of the scope of the State government’s responsibilities, it could potentially face tremendous financial exposure if subjected to unlimited tort liability. Consequently, the General Assembly enacted the Georgia Tort Claims Act (“GTCA”) which struck a balance between the two: a limited waiver of sovereign immunity. “The stated intent of the [GTCA] is to balance strict application of the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which may produce ‘inherently unfair and inequitable results,’ against the need for limited ‘exposure of the state treasury to tort liability.'” Norris v. Ga. Dept. of Transp., 268 Ga. 192, 192 (1997). 

As a prerequisite to filing suit, the GTCA provides that no tort action can be filed against the State without first providing ante-litem notice within one year after the underlying incident. O.C.G.A. §50-21-26(a). The pre-suit notice must include the name of the state entity the claim will be asserted against, the time and place of the event from which the claim arose, the nature and amount of the loss suffered, and the acts or omissions that allegedly caused the loss. O.C.G.A. §50-21-26(a). The purpose of the ante-litem notice requirement is to give the State the opportunity to investigate the claim, evaluate the claim, and hopefully, facilitate settlement before a lawsuit is filed.

In July, we blogged about recent Georgia appellate rulings interpreting the ante-litem notice requirement. SeeSusan J. Levy, Esq. and Linda Yu, Esq., Georgia Supreme Court to Weigh in on Amount of Loss Requirement for Ante-Litem Notices to the State, Georgia Insurance Defense Lawyer, July 2, 2014, Specifically, we discussed the 2013 ruling of the Georgia Court of Appeals which upheld the validity of an ante-litem notice despite the claimant’s failure to include the amount of the loss claimed. Myers v. Board of Regents, 324 Ga. App 685 (2013). In Myers, the plaintiff stepped on the edge of a pothole in a parking lot at Dalton State College and sustained left ankle injuries for which she received emergency medical treatment, orthopedic treatment, and physical therapy.

Myers sent ante-litem notice to the State approximately three months after the incident. In her notice, Myers stated that the amount of her loss was “yet to be determined as she is still incurring medical bills and does not yet know the full extent of her injury.” Lawyers for the State challenged the adequacy of the notice. The Georgia Court of Appeals refused to dismiss the case, however, finding that since Myers was still treating at the time her ante-litem notice was sent, she could not reasonably quantify the amount of her damages. In doing so, the Court of Appeals reasoned that a hyper-technical adherence to the statutory language would have barred the plaintiff’s recovery, and therefore, would not have advanced the purpose of the GTCA. The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. Sys. of Ga. v. Myers, 2014 Ga. LEXIS 768 (Oct. 6, 2014).

In the 6-1 decision penned by Justice Carol Hunstein earlier this month, the High Court found that Myers could have provided the amount of her medical expenses known at the time of her ante-litem notice and simply stated that she was still undergoing treatment. Justice Hunstein further wrote that “[t]he function of the ante-litem notice is not to ‘bind’ a plaintiff to a certain amount, but to provide notice to the State of the magnitude of the claim, as practicable and to the extent of the claimant’s knowledge and belief” at the time of the notice.”

In Myers, Supreme Court upheld the legislative mandate that claimants include the amount of loss they have allegedly suffered in their ante-litem notice prior to filing suit against the State. Simply put, the Court held that the GTCA means what it says.