GEORGIA TORTS CLAIMS ACT

The State of Georgia is generally immune from liability for the torts of its employees, but the Georgia Torts Claims Act (GTCA) allows individuals to recover money damages from the state in certain situations. Over the past few years, the State of Georgia has agreed to a number of large settlements for injuries caused by its employees under the GTCA. In one recent case, the State of Georgia settled a claim for $4.8 million after a Georgia State Trooper shot and killed an unarmed man during a traffic stop.

What is the Georgia Tort Claims Act?

The GTCA is a Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 50-21-20, et seq.) which provides a limited waiver of the state’s sovereign immunity. The GTCA allows some individuals who have been injured due to the wrongful acts of state employees to recover money for their injuries.

Can you sue the State of Georgia for any wrongful act of a state employee?

No. The Georgia Tort Claims Act is a limited waiver of sovereign immunity. This means that only certain wrongful acts by state employees will subject the state to liability. It is also important to note that the GTCA requires an injured individual to comply with specific administrative procedures before filing a lawsuit. For these reasons, it is always best to consult with an experienced GTCA attorney to determine if you are entitled to money damages under the GTCA.

Am I eligible to obtain money under the Georgia Tort Claims Act?

The GTCA allows individuals to sue the State of Georgia where two conditions are met. First, the state employee or officer who caused the injury must have been acting within the scope of their employment or official duties. This means that the state employee must have been “on the job” or performing some service for the state at the time of the injury.

Second, the type of the wrongful act must be allowed for under the GTCA. The GTCA has a long list of wrongful acts which are not eligible for financial compensation. The most common acts which do not allow for money damages are the following:

  • An action by a state employee who was exercising due care while following a law or regulation
  • Any action where the state employee performs a discretionary function
  • All legislative, judicial, and prosecutorial actions
  • Any administrative action which is legislative or judicial in nature
  • The method of providing police and fire protection
  • Assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, libel, slander, or interference with contractual rights
  • Failing to make an adequate inspection of any non-state property
  • Any licensing powers (such as issuing or suspending a license or permit)
  • The design for construction of roads where the design substantially complied with generally accepted engineering standards
  • Financial regulatory activities

Determining if an action is excluded under the GTCA is complicated, and an experienced GTCA attorney should be consulted to determine if you have a viable case. Even if your injury arguably falls under one of the GTCA’s exclusions, it may still be possible to recover money damages. Your attorney will also consider other ways to obtain money damages, including using federal civil rights laws such as 42 U.S.C. 1983.

What are examples of the types of injuries for which you can sue under the GTCA?

The following list provides examples of when the GTCA allows individuals to sue the state for the torts of its employees:

  • Automobile accidents caused by a state employee’s negligence
  • The negligent design of a highway or a defect in a road
  • Failing to properly inspect state property
  • Negligent childcare (such as leaving a child unattended in a pool or a foster parent leaving a child with an unapproved caregiver)
  • Failing to provide proper emergency medical care to incarcerated juveniles
  • Certain medical malpractice cases

It should be noted that the State of Georgia has agreed to pay out money to injured individuals even when the type of claim is technically barred by the GTCA. While such instances are uncommon, they do occur, and for this reason, an experienced GTCA attorney should be consulted to determine if an individual might be able to recover money damages even if he or she may be technically ineligible.

How do I obtain money damages under the Georgia Tort Claims Act?

Before an individual can file a lawsuit under the GTCA, the individual must follow a complex administrative process. Specifically, the individual must first give the state “notice of a claim.” This notice is also referred to as an ante litem notice. The notice is critically important and failing to provide this notice may prevent the injured individual from recovering any damages. The purpose of this notice is to provide the state with an opportunity to investigate and settle the individual’s legal claim without having to litigate the matter in court.

The notice must be provided to the state in writing within 12 months of the individual’s injury (or within 12 months of when the injury should have been discovered). The GTCA explains that the notice must be sent in a specific manner and delivered to the Risk Management Division of the Department of Administrative Services as well as the specific government entity in question. 

The GTCA requires that the notice describe the following:

  1. The name of the government entity which committed the wrongful act.
  2. The time that the act took place.
  3. The place that the act took place.
  4. The nature of the loss suffered.
  5. The amount of the loss claimed.
  6. The acts which caused the loss.

Once the Department of Administrative Services receives the claim, the state will typically investigate the matter and determine if it should settle the claim. If the state decides to settle the claim, it will contact the injured individual’s attorney and attempt to negotiate a dollar amount. If the Department of Administrative Services denies the claim, or if 90 days passes without any response, the GTCA permits the injured individual to file a lawsuit against the state seeking money damages.

Does the Georgia Tort Claims Act have a statute of limitations?

Yes. A tort action brought under the GTCA must generally be brought within two years from the date of the injury. The ante litem notice, however, must be served upon the state within 12 months of the injury.

Does the Georgia Tort Claims Act cap the amount of money that can be awarded?

Yes. The GTCA provides that an individual cannot receive more than $1,000,000 for a single wrongful act. The state’s aggregate liability per wrongful act cannot exceed $3,000,000.

Recent updates to the Georgia Tort Claims Act

While the GTCA provides an opportunity for injured individuals to recover money damages from the state, it fails to adequately compensate many individuals who injured at the hands of the state. This is most readily apparent in cases involving excessive force and police brutality. 

In most cases involving state law enforcement officers, an injured individual technically does not qualify for compensation under the GTCA because such actions usually involve an assault or battery (a common exception). For instance, the Georgia Court of Appeals held in Byrd v. Cavanaugh that the state could not be sued under the GTCA where a state trooper broke an individual’s arm during an arrest. Such victims of police brutality are often left to pursue legal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a federal civil rights law.

But we have seen the state agree to settle cases under the GTCA that are normally ineligible for money damages. Recently, the state settled a GTCA case for $4.8 million for a man killed by a state trooper during a traffic stop. Such a case is technically barred by the assault and battery exception to the GTCA. We can only surmise that the state caved into political pressure to settle this egregious case of excessive force and police brutality. What also makes this case standout is that the settlement exceeded the $1,000,000 cap provided by the GTCA. 

That case follows on the heels of other large settlements, including cases involving minors who sustained injuries from attacks at state-run youth detention centers. In one of these cases, the state agreed to settle a GTCA lawsuit for $3 million where a youth offender sustained permanent brain damage after being  attacked at the Eastman Youth Detention Center. Again, the settlement most likely stemmed from political pressure. Based on these cases, it is critically important for lawyers to consider more than just the text of the Georgia Tort Claims Act when evaluating a potential client’s case. The political atmosphere and media surrounding an event can overcome the plain text of the statute in some situations. 

If you or a loved one have been injured by a State of Georgia employee or officer, call us now for a free consultation to find out if you may have a good Georgia Tort Claims Act case.

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