Case Example of Non-Waiver of Sovereign Immunity in a Student Injury Case
Understanding Sovereign Immunity
Depending on the circumstances of the civil suit, state entities, including state-funded schools, colleges, and universities may be able to assert a successful defense of Sovereign Immunity. The Sovereign Immunity doctrine states that Georgia courts may not hear cases filed against entities of the state without the state’s consent.
There is, however, a provision in OCGA. 50-21-23 that can offer a limited Waiver of Sovereign Immunity in tort (civil) actions. This Waiver of Immunity is determined on a case-by-case basis, and the ultimate determination may hinge on the preparation and skill of the plaintiff’s Personal Injury attorney.
Notice of Claim Provision in Lawsuits Against State Entities
In Georgia, to bring a lawsuit against any state entity, the plaintiff is required to provide prior Notice in writing within 12 months of the date of the incident where the injury/loss was incurred. The purpose of this rule is to ensure the state has enough notice to possibly facilitate a settlement prior to litigation being filed. The Notice of claim must be sent by certified mail or in-person to both the:
- Risk Management Division of Georgia’s Department of Administrative Services.
- State government entity against which the suit is being brought.
Details Required in a Notice of Claim
When filing a notice of claim, the plaintiff must provide certain details specific to the incident that led to the injury:
- The name of the state government entity, the acts or omissions of which are asserted as the basis of the claim;
- The time of the transaction or occurrence out of which the loss arose;
- The place of the transaction or occurrence;
- The nature of the loss suffered;
- The amount of the loss claimed; and
- The acts or omissions that caused the loss.
Georgia courts have held that strict compliance with this provision is required. If it is not met, the state entity can argue that Sovereign Immunity should not be waived – and the case is dismissed.
Circumstances & Rulings of the Myers Case
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia v. Myers case is an example of a state entity not waiving its right to Sovereign Immunity in a premises liability injury lawsuit in Georgia civil court.
A student walking in a parking lot on the campus of Dalton State College in Dalton, Georgia, stepped into a pothole and suffered a broken bone as well as torn tendons in her ankle. After receiving medical treatment, the student plaintiff sent Notice to the school of her injury, alleging negligence in the failure to address an unsafe condition in the parking lot.
However, in her Notice, she did not indicate the total amount of her loss because she said she couldn’t know the exact amount, as she was still being treated for her injuries and accruing more costs.
Dismissal of the Suit Due to Non-Waiver of Sovereign Immunity
Because the student did not include the required information regarding her total losses, the school moved to dismiss the claim, arguing she hadn’t strictly complied with Notice requirements and thus negating the waiver of Sovereign Immunity.
The trial court agreed. The appellate court reversed, but the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the appeal again. The state’s high court found that while the plaintiff couldn’t know the full extent of her losses at the time she filed her claim, she should have indicated the amount of her current expenses up until that point with a statement about future pain and suffering and wage losses.
Failure to comply with the notice requirement meant that the school was immune from liability, and she lost her case.
Importance of Hiring an Experienced Injury Attorney
Cases like this illustrate just how critical it is to understand state and local laws and how they’re applicable in personal injury cases against schools, universities, colleges, and other state entities.
To prevail in a lawsuit against the state, you must have an attorney who can properly draft and submit these forms – on time and to the correct authority. One mistake, and your entire claim could be in jeopardy.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation. Feel free to send comments or questions to: email@example.com of Apolinsky & Associates, LLC, or call (404) 377-9191.