MILLER, P. J., RICKMAN and REESE, JJ.
MILLER, PRESIDING JUDGE.
Bush filed a civil action against The Eichholz Law Firm, P.C.
("the Eichholz firm") and David Eichholz, alleging
legal malpractice and fraud. Bush now appeals from the trial
court's grant of summary judgment to the appellees.
Having reviewed the record, we determine that the trial court
properly granted summary judgment because Bush's
termination of the appellees severed any potential liability
for legal malpractice and Bush's fraud claim fails as a
matter of law. We therefore affirm.
judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law. We review the grant of summary judgment de novo,
construing the evidence in favor of the nonmovant."
(Citation omitted.) Williams v. City of Atlanta, 342
Ga.App. 470 (803 S.E.2d 614) (2017).
viewed, the record shows that Bush is a longshoreman by
profession, and on May 22, 2014, he was operating a chassis
truck at a terminal owned by the Georgia Ports Authority.
When Bush pulled the truck into the terminal bay, a group of
stevedores began unlocking the pins from the truck so that
the crane operator could lift the cargo container from the
truck. Bush saw that the stevedores were having difficulties
with one of the pins before the "flag guy" directed
the crane operator to slowly pick up the container. The crane
operator, a Georgia Ports Authority employee, then began
lifting the container, but also picked up the truck with Bush
sitting inside. The crane operator lifted the truck twice
before returning it to the ground, at which point Bush fell
from the truck seat and injured his back.
2014, Bush retained the Eichholz firm to represent him in a
workers' compensation action and in connection with any
tort claims arising from his injuries. The Eichholz firm sent
a letter to the Georgia Department of Administrative Services
("the Department"), dated February 23, 2015,
indicating that it had been retained to represent Bush and
that the letter served as the ante litem notice required by
OCGA § 50-21-26. The ante litem notice explained that a
crane had lifted and dropped the truck that Bush had been
driving, that Bush would seek to recover for his injuries and
damages, and that a claim was being asserted in the amount of
$1 million. The Department and the Georgia Ports Authority
responded to Eichholz by letter, acknowledging receipt of the
ante litem notice and indicating that it had investigated the
incident and concluded that the crane operator was not
receiving this letter, the Eichholz firm sought advice from
counsel in deciding whether it would litigate Bush's tort
claim against the Georgia Ports Authority. A case manager and
paralegal at the Eichholz firm averred that in August 2015,
she spoke with Bush via telephone, as directed by Eichholz,
"and explained to him that [the Eichholz law firm] and
Mr. Eichholz would no longer represent [him] in connection
with his prospective personal injury claim against the
[Georgia Ports Authority]." She also averred that she
explained to Bush that the personal injury claim may be
subject to a time limitation, and that he should consult
another attorney as soon as possible regarding representation
if he wished to pursue the claim. She then sent a letter to
Bush by certified mail, dated August 25, 2015, indicating
that the Eichholz firm was still representing him in his
workers' compensation action, but not with regard to his
"date of loss." Bush, however, averred that he
neither signed for nor received this letter, and he also
testified that he did not recall having the above-mentioned
Bush grew "[d]issatisfied with Eichholz," and, in
either late August or early September 2015, consulted with
another firm, Schneider Hammers, LLC, concerning his claims.
An attorney with Schneider Hammers averred that when Bush
contacted the firm, he asked for assistance with a
workers' compensation action and a tort claim against the
Georgia Ports Authority. Schneider Hammers sent Bush a
"new client package" containing two retainer
agreements, one of which was a personal injury retainer
agreement for the tort claim. Bush signed the personal injury
retainer agreement and returned it to the Schneider Hammers
office. Bush's wife also sought and received a disk from
the Eichholz firm containing "everything in [Bush's]
testified that Schneider Hammers "wanted to go over the
documents to see what Eichholz had" but his wife had
misplaced the disk from the Eichholz firm, and neither he nor
his wife contacted the Eichholz firm for a replacement disc
because he was "fed up with it. . .
." Schneider Hammers reviewed the documents
that Bush had sent to the office, assumed that the documents
comprised Bush's case file, and when they did not see an
ante litem notice, the firm concluded that one had not been
sent. Thus, Schneider Hammers elected not to pursue the tort
claim against the Georgia Ports Authority, and when Bush
consulted with another attorney in 2016, he learned that the
statute of limitations had expired.
filed suit against Eichholz and the Eichholz firm, stating
that he "discharged the [d]efendants effective August
2015," but simultaneously alleging that they had
committed legal malpractice and fraud. Bush claimed that the
appellees had sent a deficient ante litem notice, and as a
result of the appellees' negligence in representing him,
he no longer had a viable claim against the Georgia Ports
Authority. Bush also claimed that the appellees "run a
settlement mill fueled by television and billboard
advertising[, ]" that their advertising was false and
misleading, and that he relied on the advertisements when he
retained the Eichholz firm to aggressively pursue his tort
claim against the Georgia Ports Authority.
appellees filed a motion for summary judgment, and, after a
hearing, the trial court granted the motion and denied
Bush's motion for reconsideration. The trial court
determined that the ante litem notice that the Eichholz firm
sent was not legally deficient, that Bush had stated that he
discharged the appellees in August 2015, and that Bush hired
a new law firm to represent him on his tort claim
approximately nine months prior to the expiration of the
limitation period. The trial court also found that the
appellees had not committed any fraud so as to injure Bush.
Bush then appealed.
contends that the trial court erred in ruling that the ante
litem notice was not deficient and argues that the
appellees' failure to timely serve a compliant ante litem
notice caused him to forfeit his tort claim against the
Georgia Ports Authority. The trial court correctly found that
the ante litem notice was not deficient.
§ 50-21-26 (a) specifies a detailed procedure for
notifying the state of a claim before filing a lawsuit
against it." (Citation omitted.) Perdue v.
Athens Technical College, 283 Ga.App. 404 (641
S.E.2d 631) (2007). "Subsection (a) (5) sets out the
information which the notice of claim shall state, to the
extent of the claimant's knowledge and belief and as may
be practicable under the circumstances." (Citation and
punctuation omitted.) Id. at 405. Specifically, the
notice must state:
(A) The name of the state government entity, the acts or
omissions of which are asserted as the basis of the claim;
(B) The time of the transaction or occurrence out of which
the loss arose; (C) The place of the transaction or
occurrence; (D) The nature of the loss suffered; (E) The
amount of the loss claimed; and (F) The acts or omissions
which caused the loss. The purpose of these requirements is
to ensure that the state receives adequate notice of the
claim to facilitate settlement before the filing of a
(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id. "It is
well established that strict compliance with the notice
provisions is a prerequisite to filing suit under the
[Georgia Tort Claims Act ("GTCA")], and substantial
compliance therewith is insufficient." (Citation
omitted.) Ga. Dept. of Transp. v. Griggs, 322
Ga.App. 519, 520 (745 S.E.2d 749) (2013).
But in requiring that notice be to the extent of the
claimant's knowledge and belief and as may be practicable
under the circumstances, the Act's ante litem notice
provisions clearly contemplate the possibility that a
claimant may have imperfect information regarding various
facets of [his] claim at the time the notice is submitted.
(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id. at 521.
First, Bush unpersuasively contends that the ante litem
notice did not inform the State of the nature of his
injuries. In Bush's view, the appellees merely asserted
that he suffered "severe injuries in a crane
incident," which was insufficient.
explained above, the ante litem notice must state the
"nature of the loss suffered." OCGA § 50-21-26
(a) (5) (D). For purposes of the GTCA, the term
"loss" means "personal injury; disease; . . .
lost wages and economic loss to the person who suffered the
injury, disease, or death; pain and suffering; mental
anguish; and any other element of ...