Savannah alderman voted to settle a car accident lawsuit dating back to 2010. The $10 million settled followed nearly a decade of litigation. According to the complaint, Linda Marie Muse suffered serious life-altering injuries on White Bluff Road and Lee roads. The accident occurred when Muse attempted to make a left-hand turn, but her view of oncoming traffic was partly obscured by a tree at the intersection.
Muse was driving a 2003 Honda Accord. She struck a Chatham-Savannah narcotics team officer who was driving a 2001 Chevy Silverado. The ensuing accident left Muse in need of chronic 24-hour care and a life management team. Her attorney estimated that the total cost would be around $19 million. The city settled the lawsuit for $10 million. She was 26-years-old at the time of the accident.
The Tree Was Scheduled for Removal
When two citizens are involved in a lawsuit, the suit results from one citizen suing the other. But what happens when the State of Georgia or one of its municipalities is to blame for an accident? In this case, the plaintiff successfully argued that the failure to remove the tree was the proximate cause of her accident. What does that mean? It means that if the tree had been removed, the accident wouldn’t have occurred.
The state and federal governments acknowledge that they owe their citizens a duty of care. Part of that duty of care is ensuring that their roads are safe to drive on. Since average citizens have no right or power to remove trees on their own or ensure that the roads are safe, that duty falls on the government, and when the government fails in that duty, they are responsible for the consequences.
However, the government protects itself from lawsuits in ways that citizens can’t. This includes fundamentally changing the way in which the litigation proceeds, setting caps on damages, and imposing deadlines on when the lawsuit must be filed. These are called sovereign immunity laws.
Understanding Sovereign Immunity Laws
The term sovereign immunity comes from the age of kings. Kinds were essentially insulated from all lawsuits against them. You simply could not sue them. The federal government of the United States authorizes lawsuits against the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The State of Georgia authorizes claims under the Georgia Tort Claims Act.
How are claims against the State of Georgia (or any of its municipalities) different from claims against another citizen?
Firstly, Georgia prevents specific types of lawsuits against the state. This list is quite long. It includes:
- Any act or failure to act in which a state employee was exercising due care and carrying out the law;
- Carrying out or failing to carry out a discretionary duty;
- Assessing a tax or detaining any goods or merchandise;
- Judicial, administrative, prosecutorial, or legislative action or inaction;
- Failure to provide law enforcement protection or fire department protection;
- Lawsuits arising out of riots or civil disturbance; and
- Intentional torts like battery or defamation.
This is not an exhaustive list. In some cases, an individual may not be able to file a claim against the State of Georgia, but they can still file a claim against the individual who committed the negligent act.
The question then becomes: Since the state failed to act in the case of the tree that was never cut down, does the sovereign immunity statute prevent Georgia from being sued on that basis?
What Is the Basis for a Valid Claim Against the State of Georgia?
While the list of things that you cannot sue for is incredibly long, it still does leave a variety of valid claims that you can file. Two potential claims are those arising from car accidents and slip and fall lawsuits. Car accident lawsuits can be filed against the State of Georgia in cases where a state employee was on duty when the accident occurred. Luckily for this particular plaintiff, the individual that struck her vehicle was not only negligent and responsible for the accident but working in his capacity as a state employee at the time of the accident.
This may seem like an imperfect compromise because the tree seems like the primary cause of the accident and not necessarily the driver. However, Georgia State law prevents the state from being sued for failing to carry out a discretionary duty (such as cutting down a dangerous tree).
Other Rules Governing Lawsuits Against the State of Georgia
Some states limit the size of claims that can be made against the state, but Georgia doesn’t. Instead, Georgia limits the types of claims that can be made against the state. This includes punitive damages. In no instance can punitive damages ever be brought against the state. To determine if a case can be brought against a municipality, you must ask yourself whether or not the state employee was acting within their duties as a state employee. If so, you must then determine whether or not they were negligent in their duties. If so, then you may be able to bring a case.
If you do decide to file a case against the state of Georgia, you will need to follow a specific procedure. These rules can vary from one municipality to the next. As an example, the city of Atlanta has a special form that must be filled out to file a claim against the city. Elsewhere, you’re required to state:
- The name of the municipal government,
- The act or failure to act that your claim is based on,
- The time and location of the incident,
- The nature of your injuries, and
- The money damages you are seeking.
Since it’s public funds that are used to pay out the damages, alderman or state senators will vote to settle the claim.
Talk to a Georgia Personal Injury Attorney Today
If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the State of Georgia, the personal injury attorneys at the Roger Ghai Law Offices can handle your claim whether it’s against another citizen or the State of Georgia. Talk to us today for more details.