When you are injured in a car crash, it’s important to get your personal injury lawsuit started in a timely way. Like every other state, Georgia has a legal time limit, known as the “statute of limitations,” that governs all injury-related personal injury cases filed in the state’s civil court system. You don’t want to let that time limit run out, or you will lose your chance to file a suit.
In the state of Georgia, the limitations period for personal injury claims is two years, under O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33. That means that you have two years, usually starting from the date of the injury, in which to file a lawsuit for damages. Statutes of limitation are designed to encourage plaintiffs to pursue their cases without unnecessary delay, and to protect defendants from having the threat of litigation hang over their heads indefinitely. These laws also help ensure that the facts of a case are fresh in the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ memories, and that the lawsuit takes place while witnesses and evidence can most readily be found.
Some limitations deadlines are longer or shorter than the two-year deadline for bodily injury claims. For example, while injuries caused by medical negligence are normally subject to the same two-year limitations period as other bodily injury claims, if a foreign object was left in your body after surgery , causing the injury, you only have one year to bring a claim. Likewise, for damages caused by defamation – slander or libel – the limitations period is one year. On the other hand, actions for fraud or other damage to personal property are subject to a four-year limitations period, and actions for breach of a contract are subject to either a four- or six-year limitations period, depending on whether the contract is oral or in writing.
While missing a statute of limitations deadline is an absolute bar to bringing a claim, Georgia does allow a number of circumstances to toll, or suspend, the running of the time period. For example, when a person commits a tort – such as negligence (like in a car crash) or fraud – and is charged with a crime for the same act, the limitations period is suspended until the criminal charge is resolved. Also, where a bodily injury is hidden and only discovered later – this often happens in medical malpractice cases, where the negligence of one doctor is only discovered by another doctor sometime down the road – Georgia applies the “discovery rule,” which starts the clock on the limitations period only after the harm is discovered (or should have been discovered). And in cases of negligent construction or defective products, the clock only starts to run when a person is injured, even though the negligent act may have taken place years before.
These tolling provisions themselves have limitations, though, as most or all of these claims are subject to a statute of repose. So, even though the statute of limitations on a medical malpractice case starts to run when the injury is discovered, there is a statute of repose that prevents a lawsuit from being filed more than five years after the negligent act occurred. In defective product cases that ultimate deadline is ten years from the date the item was first sold.
You will probably not be surprised at this point to learn that there are additional rules, deadlines, extensions, and requirements that apply to children, the disabled, and prisoners, or that some of these deadlines can be different if your claim is against a city, a county, the state, or the U.S. government.
This may all seem a little complicated, where even the exceptions to the rules have exceptions. The best thing you can do if you think you have a personal injury claim is to consult an attorney as soon as possible to make sure you are aware of and meet any legal deadlines.
Ken Crosson is the owner and lead attorney of the Crosson Law Group, a personal injury and business litigation law firm in Marietta, Georgia, serving the entire Atlanta metropolitan area and surrounding counties. The Crosson Law Group team is ready to help you and your family recover when you have suffered a serious injury. Call (678) 909-0770 or contact us via email today to schedule a free case evaluation.