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I am a
car wreck lawyer in Georgia, and of my clients was in a very serious car wreck because the city had
let a stop sign rust right off the pole. The driver who hit my client
should have had a stop sign, but the city had not bothered to put a new one up.

In Georgia, our cities and counties are responsible for maintaining most
of our roads. Because cities and counties often build and maintain our
roads here in Georgia, we all depend on them taking their responsibility
very seriously. If the city or county is negligent, people can die. These
cities and counties have a very serious responsibility to keep their citizens
safe. But what if they do not, and someone ends up seriously injured in
a car accident?

You might be surprised to know that if the Georgia legislature had not
acted, a citizen who was injured because the City was negligent could
not do anything about it. In Georgia, indeed throughout the entire United
States, we have a concept called “sovereign immunity.”

Sovereign immunity dates back to a time when the kings of England were
trying to protect themselves from being sued. The concept still applies
today, and now it means that a citizen cannot sue his own Government.
Unless the legislature waives the immunity, then even a person with very
serious injuries is barred from suing.

In Georgia, the legislature has made a very reasonable decision that a
person who is catastrophically injured because the city did not maintain
its roads can sue:

“A municipality is relieved of any and all liability resulting from
or occasioned by defects in the public roads of its municipal street system
when it has not been negligent in constructing or maintaining the same
or when it has no actual notice thereof or when such defect has not existed
for a sufficient length of time for notice thereof to be inferred.”

O.C.G.A. § 32-4-93(a).

“Stated positively, ‘municipalities generally have a ministerial
duty to keep their streets in repair, and they are liable for injuries
resulting from defects after actual notice, or after the defect has existed
for a sufficient length of time for notice to be inferred.’ Bush
v. City of Gainesville, 105 Ga. App. 381, 383 (124 SE2d 667) (1962).”
Roquemore v. City of Forsyth, 617 S.E.2d 644, 274 Ga.App. 420 [21] (2005).
A city is liable for defects in streets regardless of who created the
defect: “it will be liable for resulting injuries, ‘no matter
by what cause the street or sidewalk may have become defective or unsafe.
. . .’ Coker v. City of Rome, 53 Ga. App. 533, 534 (1) (186 S.E.
585).” Grayson v. City of Atlanta, 114 S.E.2d 459, 101 Ga. App.
575 [11] (1960) (citations omitted). “[T]he term ‘defects’
covered by this Code section ‘. . . includes objects adjacent to
and suspended over the street.’ (Citations omitted.) McKinley v.
City of Cartersville, 232 Ga. App. 659, 660 (1) (503 SE2d 559) (1998).”
Roquemore v. City of Forsyth, 617 S.E.2d 644, 274 Ga.App. 420 [21] (2005).

My client was able to sue the City because the legislature had made this
provision – a provision that hopefully will make the cities and
counties more accountable, and all of us safer.


Lee’s peers have named her a Georgia SuperLawyer every year for two decades.