Personal injury lawsuits are common legal actions in Georgia. If you believe you have a personal injury case, you must file it before the statute of limitations expires.
The statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits in Georgia prevents potential plaintiffs from filing their cases if too much time has passed. Generally, plaintiffs in Georgia have 2 years from the date they are injured to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, certain circumstances might allow plaintiffs to toll the statute and buy themselves more time. There might be additional limitations depending on whom you are suing. For example, a special notice of claim must be filed within only 6 months if you are suing a city or municipality. There might be additional limitations to consider if you are filing a certain type of case. For example, personal injury cases related to childhood sexual assault or medical malpractice often adhere to different time limits.
If you were injured and want to take legal action against those responsible, our Georgia personal injury attorneys can help you get started. For a free case evaluation, call Howe Law at (844) 876-4357.
Georgia’s Statute of Limitations in Personal Injury Cases
Statutes of limitations are laws that regulate how long people have to file lawsuits. Different lawsuits might adhere to different statutes of limitations, making it very important to discuss your case with an attorney as soon as possible so you can figure out deadlines. Our Georgia personal injury lawyers can help you determine when you must file your case or lose the right to do so.
The statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Georgia can be found under Georgia Code § 9-3-33. According to this statute, potential plaintiffs have 2 years from the date of their injuries to file a personal injury lawsuit. This 2-year deadline applies to personal injury cases generally, although there are a couple of different deadlines that apply only to specific kinds of claims. Possible cases that adhere to a 2-year statute of limitations include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Car accidents
- Construction injuries
- Pedestrian accidents
- Slip and Falls
- Truck Accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
Under the same law as above, a personal injury claim for damage to your reputation must be filed within only 1 year of the date the action accrues. This is important to remember if you claim non-economic damages for reputational damage alongside other personal injuries.
If you wish to file a personal injury claim for the loss of consortium, you have 4 years to file your lawsuit. Loss of consortium pertains to the loss of an intimate relationship, often a marriage. Loss of consortium tends to include things like the loss of society, companionship, and affection one would normally get from a spouse or partner and often comes up in wrongful death cases.
Extending the Deadline to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Georgia
The deadlines imposed by statutes of limitations are considered hard deadlines. Courts are often unwavering in their refusal to entertain cases submitted after the statute of limitation expires. However, there are circumstances where plaintiffs can extend the deadline and get more time to prepare their cases to be filed. Our Atlanta personal injury lawyers can determine if your situation calls for an extension of the statute of limitations.
Having a disability might allow you to toll the statute of limitations and buy more time to file your personal injury lawsuit. For tolling purposes, a disability does not necessarily mean a physical disability related to an injury or medical condition. Instead, a disability includes conditions that prevent plaintiffs from filing their cases on time.
One example of a disability can be found under Georgia Code § 9-3-90 and includes plaintiffs experiencing disability at the time their cause of action accrued. Under the law, people deemed legally incompetent because of an intellectual disability or mental illness when the cause of action accrues have 2 years to file their case after their disability ceases.
Essentially, this means that a person who cannot file because of a mental illness or disability can stop the clock on their case until their condition improves. Once improved, the normal statute of limitations will begin to run.
The same goes for people under the age of 18 when their injuries occur. They have 2 years from the date they turn 18 to file their cases.
Under Georgia Code § 9-3-91, if a potential plaintiff experiences a personal injury but becomes disabled after their cause of action accrues, the statute of limitation is paused until their disability ceases. Once the disability ceases, the statute of limitations resumes as normal.
Removal of Defendant
Another potential roadblock for plaintiffs is being unable to track down the defendant. If a defendant suspects someone might file a personal injury lawsuit against them, they might leave the state to escape the lawsuit. Typically, a plaintiff can serve the defendant notice of the lawsuit only if the defendant is present within the state’s jurisdiction. Long-arm statutes sometimes allow for service outside the state, but service is not guaranteed.
Under Georgia Code § 9-3-94, if you cannot serve notice on the defendant because they have been removed from the state, the time they are absent will not count toward the statute of limitations. So, if a defendant is missing for 7 months, those 7 months do not count toward the 2-year filing deadline in Georgia.
While you can extend the deadline for filing your case due to the defendant’s absence, you cannot extend the deadline forever. Statutes of repose impose a very hard deadline on filing lawsuits, and there is almost nothing a plaintiff can do to extend or toll a statute of repose. In medical negligence cases, the statute of repose is 5 years, according to O.C.G.A. § 9-3-71(b).
Similarly, you cannot sue for a product liability claim if more than 10 years have passed since the date of the first sale of the defective goods. This is sometimes problematic for people who were injured by defective products years after they were originally purchased. If you cannot find or serve the defendant in such a case notice of the lawsuit within ten years, you cannot file the case.
Sometimes, defendants are sneaky about how they avoid being sued. According to Georgia Code § 9-3-96, if a defendant tricks or defrauds a plaintiff into waiving their right to sue, the statute of limitation would not begin to run until the day the plaintiff discovers the fraud.
Perhaps the defendant in your case says they want to reach a settlement agreement rather than go through a full trial. However, they keep stalling settlement talks and pushing back dates for negotiating meetings to run down the statute of limitation, so you lose your right to sue. In that case, the 2-year statute of limitations would begin to run only after you realized the fraud, and any time you lost would not count toward the deadline.
Defendants in personal injury cases are sometimes held criminally responsible for their actions in addition to a civil lawsuit. For example, a defendant in a personal injury case related to a car accident might also be facing DUI charges in criminal court for the same accident. While civil lawsuits tend to take a back seat to criminal prosecutions, the statute of limitations in your case will be put on hold during criminal hearings under Georgia Code § 9-3-99.
Depending on the charges, a criminal case might take a long time to complete, and you might be left waiting for your personal injury lawsuit for a while. Although you can toll the statute of limitations during criminal prosecutions, your total time limit must not exceed 6 years.
Injuries Sustained by a Minor
As discussed above briefly, plaintiffs who were minors when they were injured may file their lawsuits according to somewhat different rules and statutes of limitations. Generally, if someone is a minor when they are injured, they have more time to file their case. This is largely because minors have a harder time filing lawsuits because they need an adult’s assistance. If no adult – usually a parent – is willing to help, the child may wait until they turn 18.
For general injuries (e.g., car accidents, slip and falls, product liability), plaintiffs who were minors at the time of the injury may have the statute of limitations tolled until they turn 18. This means that if the ordinary statute of limitations is 2 years, it would not begin to run until the plaintiff’s 18th birthday. However, you must also be mindful of statutes of repose that might expire before a minor turns 18. In such a case, a guardian might need to be appointed by the court to help the minor plaintiff with their case.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are notoriously complicated and can become even more complex when the injured patient is a minor. For example, if a young child needs surgery to remove their appendix, but the surgery goes wrong, it would be very difficult for them to file a medical negligence claim without the help of an adult or guardian. As such, different statutes of limitations apply to medical negligence cases involving minors.
According to O.C.G.A. § 9-3-73(b), a minor under the age of 5 when the medical negligence occurred must file a lawsuit within 2 years of their 5th birthday. Under O.C.G.A. § 9-3-73(c)(2), a medical negligence claim cannot be brought after the 10th birthday of a minor plaintiff if the minor was younger than 5 when the negligence occurred. Additionally, a medical negligence case cannot be brought after 5 years from the date of the negligence if the plaintiff was 5 or older when the negligence occurred.
Limitation on Personal Injury Lawsuits Against Cities and Municipalities in Georgia
When people file personal injury lawsuits, they often name individuals as defendants. However, sometimes people sue cities or municipalities for their injuries rather than people. In these cases, the same statutes of limitations apply as if a person were being sued rather than a government. However, there is one special caveat that is especially time-sensitive.
Under Georgia Code § 36-33-5, any plaintiff suing a municipality must serve that municipality with a notice of the claim no more than 6 months after the cause of action accrues. The notice must be presented in writing and explain the nature of the lawsuit, including the time, place, and nature of the accident and injuries.
Once the notice of claim has been presented, the defending municipality has 30 days to consider the case and respond. During these 30 days, the statute of limitations is paused. If the 6-month window of time closes, you might lose your right to sue the municipality. However, our Georgia personal injury lawyers can help determine if other potential parties can be held liable for your injuries.
Many plaintiffs, unfortunately, lose their right to sue a city or municipality because they do not realize suing is an option until the very narrow time window closes. One example of a possible lawsuit against a city or town might involve an accident with a city bus. Lots of city use buses and bus drivers as part of their comprehensive public transportation systems. If a city bus hits you, you can sue the city rather than a private bus company.
Another possibility would be if you were hit by a trash truck. Garbage collection and waste management are often handled by the city and municipal authorities. After a trash truck accident, you can sue the city the trash truck works for. If the defendant works for the government, and the accident occurred in the course of that person’s job, there is a good chance you can sue the city, town, or municipality.
Special Statutes of Limitations in Georgia
Several special cases do not adhere to the standard statute of limitations in personal injury cases. Personal injury cases stemming from childhood sexual abuse usually allow plaintiffs much more time to file. There are also unique limitations on claims that arise while a defendant is alive but have not been filed at the time of the defendant’s death. Medical malpractice, which is another kind of personal injury case, also follows its own unique rules.
Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse and assault cases are particularly serious. In many cases, victims are too young to file a lawsuit. In others, victims do not report the abuse until much later out of fear or intimidation from their abusers. The law considers these details when determining when a childhood sexual abuse victim can sue their abuser for their injuries.
Under Georgia Code § 9-3-33.1(a)(2), any civil action for damages suffered because of childhood sexual abuse committed before July 1, 2015, must be filed on or before the plaintiff’s 23rd birthday. For victims who were very young when they were injured, this law allows them a much longer period to bring their lawsuit to court. Our Valdosta personal injury lawyers can help you file your case no matter how long you have had to wait.
Under Georgia Code § 9-3-33.1(b)(2), if you are suing for childhood sexual abuse that happened on or after July 1, 2015, you also have until your 23rd birthday to file a claim. Alternatively, you have 2 years from the date you knew or had reasons to know of the abuse and that the abuse is what caused your injuries. This information must come from competent medical or psychological evidence.
Claims Arising Before Death
Under Georgia Code § 9-3-36, there are separate time limits for filing personal injury cases if the defendant dies before the plaintiff can file. Under the law, claims against a deceased defendant’s estate that arose while the defendant was still alive cannot be brought more than 6 years after the claims arose.
This statute is not so much a statute of limitations as it is a statute of repose. The difference is that a statute of repose imposes a deadline that cannot be tolled. Once this deadline passes, the defendant is often considered immune from civil action. If the defendant in your case passes away, you cannot file the case any more than 6 years after the action accrued.
This is important in cases where the defendant passes away because there might be other legal hearings, proceedings, and issues regarding the deceased person’s estate that must be settled before your case can be heard. In some cases, settling an estate takes years. Our Warner Robins personal injury lawyers can help you file your case before the deadline.
One significant type of personal injury case stems from medical malpractice. Medical malpractice arises when a medical professional injures a patient because the medical professional’s treatment fell short of certain standards of care. For guidance on your case, speak to our Macon personal injury attorneys.
According to Georgia Code § 9-3-71(a), injured plaintiffs have 2 years from the date of injury to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Additionally, a plaintiff cannot file a medical malpractice lawsuit any later than 5 years after the date of their injuries. While this is the same time limit as the ordinary statute of limitations for personal injuries, this law provides unique tolling exceptions.
One notable exception to the time limits placed on medical malpractice cases is found under Georgia Code § 9-3-72. This law applies to cases involving foreign objects left in the body, often after surgery. A plaintiff has 1 year from the date they discover the presence of the foreign body to file their lawsuit. This might occur a few weeks, months, or years after the object was originally left behind.
Under Georgia Code § 9-3-73(b), there are different limitations for minors who are injured because of medical malpractice. Minors under the age of 5 when they are injured by medical malpractice have 2 years from the date of their fifth birthday to bring a medical malpractice action. All minors, including those older than 5, must file their cases no later than 5 years after the injuries occurred.
While a statute of limitations may be tolled for a certain period of time, tolling cannot last forever. Eventually, the clock runs out. The statute of repose, which is rarely tolled, is 5 years, according to O.C.G.A. § 9-3-71(b). This is particularly important in cases where plaintiffs need to toll the statute of limitations because they did not realize the medical malpractice until later, such as in cases involving foreign objects left inside the body. If at least 5 years have passed since the negligence occurred, you might be barred from suing.
How a Georgia Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Determine the Appropriate Statute of Limitations
As you can tell, the issue of statutes of limitations can be very complicated. While it is a good rule of thumb to file your case as soon as possible, this can be challenging. Many plaintiffs do not realize the full extent of their injuries until years after they were initially injured. Our Georgia personal injury lawyers can help you identify the correct statute of limitations that applies to your case and file your lawsuit before the deadline.
Identifying the appropriate statute of limitations might be very challenging for the average person. There might be a general statute of limitations that applies to everyone and there might be specific statutes that apply to a niche group under select circumstances. Knowing what statute applies to your case is crucial, and unfortunately difficult. An attorney can review your case and determine which statute of limitation applies.
Statutes of repose are a bit easier to determine, but almost impossible to extend or toll. It is not unusual for plaintiffs to want to file lawsuits several years after being injured. Before getting started, you need to know whether you need to toll the statute of limitations and if the statute of repose has passed. If the statute of repose has expired, your attorney can help you explore other legal options or claims that might still be viable.
One of the most significant benefits of having a skilled lawyer is having a legal professional who can prioritize your case. If the statute of limitations or repose is fast approaching, your attorney can help you prioritize the steps that need to be done quickly so your case can be filed on time.
Call Our Georgia Personal Injury Lawyers for a Free Case Review
Personal injury law is broad and encompasses various cases, including accidents, criminal acts, and medical malpractice. Our Jackson personal injury attorneys are available for free case reviews to help you get started. Call Howe Law at (844) 876-4357.