The Atlanta City council has approved a $325,000 payment to a woman who tripped and fell on a broken City of Atlanta water meter. The injured Atlanta citizen originally sought over $1 million when she hurt herself when she stepped through a broken water meter cover that was not properly maintained by the city.
While the City of Atlanta is often immune from the type of negligence claims asserted against private entities, there are many legal theories under which people hurt by the wrongful acts of the City of Atlanta can recover. One such theory is nuisance. Under a nuisance claim, the injured party claims that the City of Atlanta has maintained a dangerous condition and has not corrected the danger, even after the City knew, or should have known of the danger. Many times, the plaintiff is able to prove that the City knew about the dangerous condition by securing documents via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents that are produced in response to the FOIA request often have citizen complaints of the hazardous condition, incident reports that document other injuries caused by the dangerous condition, failed attempts by City workers to fix the problem, and other documents that prove notice to the City of the problem. I have found this to be especially true in cases involving City of Atlanta dangerous road conditions, dangerous sidewalk conditions (including dangerous curbs and uneven sidewalks, which are a tripping hazard) and, as in the present case, water meters which the City has notoriously failed to properly maintain. In fact, at one point, the City was installing covers on the water meters which were the wrong size. This made the situation worse, as it created an unsafe condition by hiding the meter, but if someone stepped on the cover, it collapsed into the meter (along with the pedestrians foot, etc.).
In order to maintain a nuisance claim against the City, one must first “put the City on notice.” Under Georgia law, before an action for personal injury or injury to property can be brought against the City or other municipal entity, one must first send a written ante-litem notice. This is a legal requirement that has been recently changed and has come under a bit of scrutiny as some entities that are entitled to an anti-litem notice are not obvious. In other words, the entity may technically be a governmental entity (and entitled to receive an anti-litem notice prior to being sued), but have a name that does not indicate to the public that is anything but a private, for profit, business. These situation must be properly investigated to make sure that: (1) the correct entity is identified; and (2) if the entity is considered a governmental entity, that a proper anti-litem notice is sent to preserve all claims against the target entity and all other potential defendants.