By David S. Fried
In an important decision for injury victims, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently softened the requirement that victims must specifically identify the amount of their damages in a pre-suit ante-litem notice. Myers v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, A13A1597 (November 13, 2013).
In Georgia, a personal injury victim cannot sue a state agency without first giving the state notice of her claim. O.C.G.A. § 50-21-26. The required notice—called an “ante-litem notice”—must be in writing, must be provided within twelve months of the injury, and must contain specific information about the claim, including:
1. The name of the government entity against which it is made;The time of the injury;
2. The place of the injury;
3. The nature of the injury;
4. The amount of the loss claimed; and
5. The act or omission which caused the injury.
Georgia courts require strict compliance with these requirements, and regularly dismiss lawsuits brought by injury victims who fail to comply.
In Myers, Ms. Myers injured herself when she stepped on the edge of an unrepaired pothole on the campus of Dalton State College. Her ante-litem notice to the State asserted that the amount of her damages was still undetermined because she was still treating for her injuries, still racking up medical bills from that treatment, and was therefore unaware of the full extent of her damages. Because the notice failed to specifically identify the “amount of the loss claimed,” the State moved to dismiss Ms. Myer’s lawsuit suit. The trial Court granted the motion and threw out her lawsuit.
On appeal, however, the appellate court focused on statutory language that required the claimant to provide information about her claim “to the extent of the claimant’s knowledge and belief and as may be practicable under the circumstances…” This language, reasoned the Court of Appeals, “contemplates the possibility that a claimant may have imperfect information regarding various facets of her claim at the time her notice is submitted.” In so reasoning, the Court of Appeals concluded that the notice requirements should not be construed to create a hyper-technical barrier to recovery. In Ms. Myers’ case, her ante litem notice provided sufficient notice of her claim to the State. The purpose of the notice requirement was not frustrated by Ms. Myers’ failure to specify the exact amount of her loss because the notice stated her damages “to the extent of her knowledge and belief” at the time.
This less restrictive interpretation may likely be limited to the circumstances of the case – where a claimant continues to incur losses related to an injury. However, even as limited, the case provides a welcome interpretation of a rigid statute and allows injured plaintiffs the opportunity to properly place the State on notice of a claim without fear of cutting off losses that continue to accrue following the notice.