We live in a world of e-mails, IMs, texts, Snapchats, TikToks, Instagrams and the occasional fax. Although information is transmitted instantaneously in today’s environment, proof of receipt of that information (often called “Notice”) remains subject to some very strict rules imposed by contract, case law or statute.
Notice of Claims. In a transportation case involving a personal injury, Department of Transportation v. Jones, the Court of Appeals of Georgia explained the importance of strict compliance with certain notice provisions. The plaintiff was injured in a single-car accident on State Route 42 and he sued the Georgia Department of Transportation (“GDOT”). The plaintiff claimed that GDOT’s improper maintenance of the roadway led to an accumulation of water, which caused his truck to hydroplane into a tree, severely injuring him. GDOT filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff failed to strictly comply with the notice provisions of the Georgia Tort Claims Act (“GTCA”). The trial court denied that motion and the Court of Appeals reversed.
The Green Card. The GTCA requires that notice of the claim be sent to “the Risk Management Division of the Department of Administrative Services.” At the hearing, the plaintiff presented the following evidence: (a) the notice letter; (b) the green return receipt card sent to the Commissioner of GDOT; (c) a response letter from the Risk Management Division acknowledging receipt of the notice letter; and (d) a U.S. Postal Service tracking document showing that “something was sent by certified mail to the Department of Administrative Services.
The Holding. Despite this evidence, the Court held that the plaintiff failed to strictly comply with the statute because there was no proof by the plaintiff that the letter was sent by certified mail to the Risk Management Division. The green card submitted showed proof of delivery to the Commissioner of GDOT. The attorney for GDOT admitted in court that the notice letter received by the Commissioner of GDOT was then sent internally by the Commissioner’s office to the Risk Management Division, which then sent the acknowledgement letter. Nevertheless, the plaintiff did not comply with the statute requiring that he sent notice of the claim to the Risk Management Division.
So What? While this may seem like a hyper-technical application of the rule, that’s precisely what “strict construction” means according to one court in George. Whether you are contractor, developer, specialty subcontractor, or professional service provider in the construction industry, the real lesson learned is to read the express terms of any applicable contract or statute when a dispute arises, and follow both “the letter and the spirit” of the law.