Suing States, Counties and Cities: The Relationship Between “Ante-Litem” Notice Requirements and Pending Criminal Investigations.

“Ante litem” is a Latin term that means “before litigation.” In Georgia, state, county and city governments (and their departments and agencies) require claimants to send an “ante litem notice” before filing a lawsuit. The ante litem notice notifies the government of a victim’s claim and gives it the opportunity to investigate and resolve the claim prior to litigation. The failure to timely and properly serve an ante litem notice will, in some instances, bar a claimant’s lawsuit. In Georgia, for example, a claimant must serve an ante litem notice upon the state within one year of her injury. This notice requirement is mandatory and must be complied with, even though the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claims is longer – two years in Georgia.

The Official Code of Georgia outlines the “ante litem notice” requirements applicable to the state, counties and cities (including their departments and agencies). A claimant must serve the State and counties with an ante litem notice within twelve months of injury. The period for notifying a city is shorter; a claimant must serve a city with an ante litem notice within six months of injury.

In 2010, the Georgia Assembly created an important exception to the ante litem statutory scheme. Code Section 50-21-27(e) states that “all provisions relating to the tolling of limitations of actions, as provided elsewhere in this Code, shall apply to causes of action brought pursuant to this article.” “Tolling” suspends the statute of limitations for a period of time under specific conditions. For example, Georgia law “tolls” the statute of limitations on a minor’s personal injury claim until the minor turns 18.   Thus, if the original limitations period required a lawsuit to be filed within the two years of injury, that time period is “tolled,” and only begins to run, when the injured minor turns 18.

Another tolling provision, then, that should extend the ”ante litem notice” requirements is the one applicable to criminal investigations.   Generally speaking, Georgia law tolls the statute of limitations during the time that a criminal investigation related to an injury is pending. Thus, the notice period for claims against states, counties and cities, for which an open criminal investigation is pending, should be tolled during the criminal investigation.

The laws related to ante litem notices are confusing and require strict compliance. But if your notice upon the appropriate government agency has not been timely filed, it is worth looking at the circumstances surrounding the injury and the possibility of a closed or pending criminal investigations. The investigation may reveal that your time period for submitting an ante litem notice has been tolled.

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