Lawsuits against the government, either state or federal, often come with a variety of specialized procedural hurdles. In Georgia, among these particular requirements that catch hapless litigants by surprise are the many special notice requirements that preclude a litigant from bringing suit against a state entity unless he or she gives proper notice of the suit. For instance, in a recent decision, Estate of Leonard, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court ruling holding that one unfortunate plaintiff was barred from bringing a tort suit against a county government for failing to adhere to the notice requirements under O.C.G.A. § 36-11-1.
Leonard arose from a collision on January 30, 2012. The plaintiff, an 82-year-old man, was riding on a bus owned by Whitfield County, Georgia. The plaintiff, who was sitting in a wheelchair that was secured by straps specifically designed to hold wheelchair-bound passengers, alleged that when the driver of the bus made a high speed turn, it caused the straps to detach, which, in turn, caused his wheelchair to tip over. As a result of the fall, the plaintiff sustained two broken legs that required surgery. Thereafter, the plaintiff was confined to a managed care facility. The plaintiff’s attorney sent notice to the County Attorney for Whitfield County and then filed suit on January 21, 2014. The county answered the complaint, asserting, inter alia, a defense that the plaintiff did not comply with the ante litem notice requirements provided under O.C.G.A. § 36-11-1. Following discovery, the county moved for summary judgment. The trial court denied this motion for summary judgment, finding that issues of fact precluded a finding that notice had not been accomplished. Following the denial of the motion for summary judgment, counsel for the plaintiff served a copy of the complaint on several of the county commissioners. Nevertheless, the county filed a second motion for summary judgment and included an affidavit from the county attorney stating that at all times material to this action, he had not been authorized by the county commissioners to accept notice of suit on behalf of the county. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, and the current appeal followed. During the course of the litigation, the plaintiff died, and the executor of his estate was substituted as the plaintiff.