In the wake of the tragic New Year’s Eve car wreck that killed Kathy Porter, the wife of Atlanta Braves trainer, Jeff Porter, many lay folks have asked me, since my practice in Atlanta is exclusively plaintiff’s personal injury, whether the Georgia State Patrol or the individual Georgia State Trooper would be liable for causing this wreck. There seems to be absolutely no dispute the Georgia State Trooper was at fault in causing this wreck. http://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta/witness-gives-account-of-1283677.html The question arises, however, whether the State of Georgia would be liable for the State Trooper’s recklessness? Or would the State of Georgia be able to avoid liability by asserting the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity, which allows the State in some instances to avoid civil liability completely?
The Georgia State Tort Claims Act (GTCA) allows injured individuals to hold the State of Georgia responsible for their injuries caused by the negligence or carelessness of State actors/employees in limited scenarios. First, the injured party must give the State of Georgia and the agency involved “ante litem notice,” or notice of the intent to bring a claim against the State, within 12 months of the negligent act or incident. Then the negligent act must fit squarely within the types of act for which the GTCA allows liiability; there are many exceptions in the statute itself.
And there are some trade-offs for even being able to bring suit against the State of Georgia. For example, one such trade-off is that the State’s liability for anything, no matter how egregious the conduct, is limited to $1 Million dollars. That means in any case in which a State employee’s negligence results in the death of another human being, the most the family of the decedent can recover is $1 Million dollars. And surely we can all agree that the value of the life of anyone is greater than a mere $1 Million dollars. Another such trade-off is the State of Georgia can never be punished by punitive damages, regardless of how unconscionable the subject incident was. For example, in the Kathy Porter case, there is evidence that this particular State Trooper had caused four prior wrecks. If we were talking about a private corporation’s employee who had caused four prior wrecks and killed someone in his fifth, a jury could decide to punish that corporation for continuing to employ that reckless employee by awarding punitive damages against the employer. Not so against the State of Georgia.
So, although there may never be full and complete justice for the Porter Family for the wreck caused by the Georgia State Trooper, there is at least some measure of justice available thanks to the Georgia Tort Claims Act.