When the negligent actions of someone in the employ of the government, such as a police officer, result in the death of a person, sovereign immunity protects government entities in Georiga. However, there has been some controversy over when government insurance policies must pay certain claims.
A recent Georgia Supreme Court decision may provide clarification.
What is sovereign immunity?
Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that prevents anyone from suing the government without the government’s consent. Georgia law waives sovereign immunity for municipalities in cases of misconduct or negligence, but restricts the amount of damages a plaintiff can seek:
- $50,000 property damage
- $500,000 bodily injury or death of one person
- $700,000 bodily injury or death of two or more people
Supreme court ruling
Previously, courts had held that cities carrying insurance coverage beyond the $700,000 limit for injury or wrongful death had effectively waived their sovereign immunity, allowing plaintiffs to seek the full value of the insurance policy in a case of serious injury or wrongful death.
However, the Georgia Supreme Court decision establishes that merely purchasing insurance over the $700,000 limit does not waive sovereign immunity. As a result, plaintiffs can not seek more than the existing cap on the government’s liability, regardless of how much insurance the government entity has.
The only exception to this rule is if the insurance policy specifically includes the type of misconduct that led to the wrongful death or personal injury suit. Otherwise, unless the state legislature changes the law, Georgia cities and their insurance companies are financially protected by the existing limits on compensation.