“You snooze, you lose.” The time limit to file a lawsuit in court for personal injury or wrongful death in Georgia is two years. But the time to present a notice of claim to a city government when one is hurt or killed by a municipal government’s negligence or public nuisance — whether due to negligent operation of a city vehicle, dangerous conditions on city property, failure to replace a missing traffic sign or whatever — is only six months.
O.C.G.A. § 36-33-5 requires that notice be provided to a municipality within 6 months of the claim. We lawyers still cling to old Latin phrases, even if only to make ourselves sound cool and justify having taken a dead language in high school, so we call this an “ante litem notice,” meaning it is a notice given before filing suit. The statute requires that
Within six months of the happening of the event upon which a claim against a municipal corporation is predicated, the person, firm, or corporation having the claim shall present the claim in writing to the governing authority of the municipal corporation for adjustment, stating the time, place, and extent of the injury, as nearly as practicable, and the negligence which caused the injury. No action shall be entertained by the courts against the municipal corporation until the cause of action therein has first been presented to the governing authority for adjustment.
In a death claim, the time for the statute of limitation starts running on the date of death rather than the date of the injury that leads to death. That would apply to an ante litem notice as well because the death itself is the event upon which a claim for wrongful death is based so the time period does not begin until the time of death.
While some accurate specificity is required regarding the time, place and extent of injury, substantial compliance is generally good enough. This is in contrast to the technical strictness in ante litem notices to state government under the Georgia Tort Claims Act.
The time limit for giving a notice of claim to a city government may be “tolled” — stopping the clock — by mental incapacity and a few other limited circumstances, but it is very dangerous to assume such an extension of a time limit will work in a particular case.
Contact us if you have a serious personal injury or wrongful death claim against a city government in Georgia.
Ken Shigley is a past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), with a statewide personal injury trial practice based in Atlanta. He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (West 2010-13) and is double board certified in Civil Trial Advocacy and Civil Pretrial Advocacy by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification. He defended state and local governmental officials and employees in civil damage cases from 1982 to 1993, and since then has often represented individuals and families in personal injury and wrongful death cases against state and local governments.