Georgia Court of Appeals Reaffirms Need for Compliance with Minimums of Ante Litem Notice
A20A1011. PICKLESIMER et al. v. CITY OF EATONTON et al
The Georgia Court of Appeals recently reiterated the need for compliance with the notice provisions of the ante litem notice provisions for a tort claim against a municipality. Brian and Jennifer Picklesimer sued the City of Eatonton and its public works superintendent for injuries Jennifer sustained when the Picklesimers’ vehicle ran off the road. They also sought damages for Brian loss of consortium.
The trial court dismissed their complaint against the city and the public works director in his official capacity on the ground that their ante litem notice did not comply with O.C.G.A. §36-33-5(e) in that it failed to include the specific amount of monetary damages they demanded from the city, the equivalent of an offer to settle that could be accepted by the city. The Georgia Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court:
“We review the grant of a motion to dismiss a complaint de novo. Manzanares v. City of Brookhaven, 352Ga. App. 293(834SE2d358) (2019). The Picklesimers’ complaint alleged that Jennifer Picklesimer was injured when the Picklesimers’vehicle ran off the roadway and crashed into an embankment. They alleged that the configuration of the roadway and deficient signage caused the crash. Within six months of the accident, the Picklesimers delivered an ante litem notice to the city that provided: Jennifer Picklesimer has incurred medical expenses in excess of $25,000 to date and is likely to incur additional medical expenses in the future. Jennifer Picklesimer has also experience[d] mental and physical pain and suffering as a result of the incident, in an amount to be determined by the enlightened conscience of a fair and impartial jury. Jennifer Picklesimer was unable to work due to her injuries from the date of the incident until June 19th, and has suffered loss wages in an amount in excess of $3,900.00. . .. Brian Picklesimer. . .has suffered damages in the form of loss of consortium due to Jennifer Picklesimer’s personal injuries. The amount of damages of loss of consortium must be determined by the enlightened conscience of a fair and impartial jury. Based on the severity of claimants’ injuries and damages, claimants reasonably expect that the total damages suffered as a result of this incident are likely to exceed $100,000.00.”
The city responded: “Our review of the roadway in question reveals that it is properly signed with sharp curve warning signage. Since there is no negligence upon the City or City employees for this accident, we respectfully decline to meet any demand as outlined in your ante litem notice.”
Under O.C.G.A. § 36-33-5, a person seeking to assert a claim against a municipal corporation for money damages must, within six months of the event on which the claim is based, “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.” O.C.G.A. §36-33-5 (b). In 2014, the General Assembly added the following paragraph to § 36-33-5: The description of the extent of the injury required in subsection(b) of this Code section shall include the specific amount of monetary damages being sought from the municipal corporation. The amount of monetary damages set forth in such claim shall constitute an offer of compromise. In the event such claim is not settled by the municipal corporation and the claimant litigates such claim, the amount of monetary damage set forth in such claim shall not be binding on the claimant. O.C.G.A. §36-33-5(e); see Ga. L. 2014, pp. 125, 126, § 1. The trial court dismissed the Picklesimers’ complaint for failing to comply with this provision.
The Picklesimers argued that their ante litem notice substantially complied with O.C.G.A. §36-33-5(e) because the amount of damages listed was sufficiently specific and the notice provided sufficient information for the city to investigate their claim and to decide whether to settle. The court disagreed:
Whether OCGA § 36-33-5 (e) requires substantial or strict compliance is not clear; neither we nor our Supreme Court has expressly decided the issue. See Pickens v. City of Waco, 352 Ga. App. 37, 41 (2019). But we need not resolve the issue here because under either standard, the Picklesimers’ ante litem notice was insufficient.
As such, the issue of ante litem compliance continues to be fertile soil for procedural analysis and motions practice.