In every state, property owners are obligated to maintain reasonably safe premises to minimize the risk of harm to anyone who may come onto the property.

Retailers, hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, and even private homeowners can be sued if someone is injured on their properties because they were negligent.

But what happens if you are seriously injured at a public park, or if your child is injured at a public playground? What if you trip on cracked pavement on a public sidewalk, or you trip over curled-up carpeting at City Hall or the public library?

IF YOU’RE INJURED BY NEGLIGENCE ON PUBLIC PROPERTY, WHO’S LIABLE?

If someone is injured in Georgia because there was a hazardous condition on state, county, or municipal government property, the governmental body or agency responsible for the property may also be liable for that person’s personal injury or injuries.

In any personal injury case in Georgia, if you have been injured because of a property owner’s negligence, in order to be compensated for your medical expenses and lost wages, here is what you must prove:

1. The property owner had a duty of care to keep the property reasonably safe.
2. The property owner failed in that duty in regard to a hazardous condition on the property.
3. That hazard was a direct cause of your personal injury or injuries.
4. The personal injury caused quantifiable damages entitling you to compensation.

WILL YOU NEED A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER?

Personal injury lawsuits against governmental bodies and agencies are frankly a bit more complicated than cases involving private individuals and businesses.

That’s one reason why, if you are injured on public property because of negligence – anywhere in the state of Georgia – you must put your case in the hands of an experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney immediately.

The procedure for filing a claim against the government – as well as the type and amount of compensation available if you prevail – is a different procedure from bringing an injury lawsuit against an individual or a business.

Your attorney can help you file your claim, but a greater concern for injury victims in Georgia is the legal principle of “sovereign immunity,” which limits the ability of injury victims to sue a government body or agency – even when that body or agency was clearly negligent.

WHAT IS SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY?

Under the legal principle known as sovereign immunity, a government may not be sued for liability without that government’s own consent.

In 1890, the United States Supreme Court, citing the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution, affirmed that the states possess sovereign immunity and are therefore immune from being sued without their own consent.

Nevertheless, the state of Georgia waives its immunity against injury claims in some cases. The Georgia Tort Claims Act of 1992 waives the immunity of Georgia’s state government and agencies in particular cases.

WHAT DOES THE GEORGIA TORT CLAIMS ACT PROVIDE?

The Georgia Tort Claims Act permits the state to be held liable for particular negligent actions of the state’s employees and officials, provided that an employee’s or official’s negligence occurred “within the scope” of his or her “official duties or employment.”

Recovery for any victim for a single incident resulting in injury is capped at $1,000,000 under the Georgia Tort Claims Act. No punitive damages may be awarded in premises liability cases filed against the state of Georgia.

To address a state employee’s negligence, the victim of that negligence must file a claim against the state agency that employs the individual. A state employee, officer, or elected official cannot be sued personally for negligence that occurs within the scope of official duties.

If you sustain a personal injury or injuries on state property here in Georgia, as soon as you’ve been examined by a healthcare professional, discuss your case with a  lawyer. Claims against the state are complicated and must be handled carefully. The laws in California are different, so if you have an accident in California, it is best to speak with an Anaheim personal injury lawyer.

WHAT IS A NOTICE OF CLAIM?

In fact, before you can file a negligence claim against the state, you must submit a “notice of claim” to the Risk Management Division of the Georgia Department of Administrative Services.

This document informs the state that you intend to file an injury claim. The notice of claim must be filed within one year of your injury.

Have your accident attorney help you with this paperwork – and don’t wait a year. You need to start the process right away.

After your notice of claim is received and reviewed, you may be offered a settlement by the state. If so, discuss the offer with your attorney.

Otherwise, the case may proceed to court if the Department of Administrative Services denies the claim or has taken no action on the claim after ninety days.

WHAT IF YOU ARE INJURED BY NEGLIGENCE ON COUNTY PROPERTY?

The Georgia Tort Claims Act only applies to the state government, so it will not help you if you are injured by negligence on county, city, or school district property in the state of Georgia.

However, if your claim is against a county government in Georgia, the process is similar to the process described above for a claim against the state, including the one-year deadline for filing a notice of claim.

WHAT IF YOU ARE INJURED BY NEGLIGENCE ON MUNICIPAL PROPERTY?

The state waives sovereign immunity for towns and cities in Georgia in particular circumstances:

1. Georgia towns and cities are accountable for their employees’ “neglect to perform or improper or unskillful performance of their ministerial duties.”

2. Georgia towns and cities may also be found liable for injuries caused by defects in sidewalks or streets if the town or city was negligent in its obligation to keep those public areas reasonably safe.

Negligence claims against Georgia municipalities differ from claims against the state government in two important ways:

1. Mayors, city council representatives, town officers, and sometimes others may be sued as individuals rather than as municipal officials if their negligence has resulted in particular types of damages.

2. The deadline for submitting a notice of claim against a municipal government in Georgia is six months rather than one year.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER?

It can be difficult to recover damages if you’re injured on public property in Georgia, and it can take some time.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can’t sue city hall. You can, and if you’ve been injured on public property because of negligence, you are entitled to compensation, and filing a claim is your right.

The most important thing to remember is that if you are injured on public property in Georgia, you must discuss your legal rights and options at once with a skilled personal injury attorney. Your future could depend on it.