Good for Goose, Good for Gander: Georgia’s Anti-Litem Statute Revisited
By David S. Fried
We’ve written before about Georgia’s ante litem notice requirement. Under the Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA), an injury victim cannot sue the State, a county, or a municipality without first giving it notice of his or her claim. The notice must include certain specific information about the claim. The Georgia Supreme Court requires strict adherence with the notice requirement; “substantial compliance” is insufficient, so a notice that fails to provide all of the information required by the GTCA may result in the dismissal of an injury victim’s claim.
Fried & Bonder recently posted an article discussing the Court of Appeal’s interpretation of the GTCA in Myers v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. In that case, the appellate court held that an injury victim complied with the GTCA’s requirement that a claimant specify “[t]he amount of the loss claimed.” In that case, the claimant’s notice indicated the amount of her damages was still undetermined because she was still treating for her injuries and still racking up medical bills from that treatment. The court focused on the statutory language that required the claimant to state the amount of her claim only “to the extent of the claimant’s knowledge and belief and as may be practicable under the circumstances…”
In another case decided earlier this year, the Court took a look at the same statute as it relates to claims for attorneys’ fees. In Atlanta Home Builders Association v. City of McDonough, the issue was whether the GTCA required a claimant to specifically notify the city of its intent to seek attorneys’ fees. Relying on an earlier case, Dover v. City of Jackson, the trial court denied the plaintiff’s claim for attorneys’ fees because its notice failed to specifically identify fees as a component of its loss. According to the trial court, the ante litem notice failed to put the city on notice of the fees claim. The claimant appealed, arguing that it provided the required notice, but also contending that the GTCA did not even apply to its fees claims since the statute only requires notice of claims “on account of injuries to persons or property.” The Court of Appeals agreed with the claimant’s second argument—that the GTCA did not apply to its attorneys’ fees claim—and reversed the trial court’s decision. Because the decision was adopted by all twelve members of the appellate court, it overturned Dover and created new precedent.
One might be tempted to conclude that Home Builders and Meyers signal a relaxation by Georgia courts of the GTCA’s strict notice requirements. That is not the case. In neither case did the appellate courts disregard (or even question) the “strict compliance” requirement, and in both cases the courts reached their decisions by rigidly interpreting the GTCA’s statutory language. What made these cases different was the party who benefited from that strict interpretation. Historically, strict interpretation of the GTCA has resulted in favorable rulings for the defendant state, county or city. But what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. Strict interpretation of the GTCA has, in Home Builders and Meyers, created precedent making it easier for plaintiffs to pursue claims against government actors.