The deadline to file a lawsuit is the most important procedural issue governing your Georgia personal injury or wrongful death claim. With very few exceptions, these claims must be filed within 2 years of the date of the injury, or the case is gone forever—game over.
Explanation of Georgia’s Statute of Limitations
The deadline to file your lawsuit is created by a law called the statute of limitations. “Statute” simply means a written law, and “limitations” just means it is a law that limits your claim.
A couple of examples to illustrate how this works:
On October 15, 2020, Bob slips and falls on grease left on the floor at Jane’s Diner and breaks his arm. Over the next many months, Bob is in talks with Jane’s Diner’s insurance company.
On September 20, 2022, the insurance company tells Bob they are still evaluating his claim and will be in touch soon. Bob believes them and waits, but hears nothing.
On October 16, 2022, Bob calls the insurance company for an update. The adjuster informs him that the two-year statute of limitations on his claims has expired, and the insurance company is closing his file without offering him anything. Bob’s claim is lost forever because the two-year statute of limitations has in fact expired.
Bob has lost his claim. Don’t be like Bob.
On October 15, 2020, Liz slips and falls at Acme Grocery and herniates a disc in her spine. Over the next many months, Liz is in talks with Acme’s insurance company.
On September 20, 2022, the insurance company calls and tells Liz they are still evaluating her claim and will be in touch soon. Liz, having read her favorite attorney’s blog about the statute of limitations, knows she must act quickly.
Liz calls her attorney, who conducts an expedient investigation, drafts all the necessary documents, and files Liz’s lawsuit before 11:59 p.m. on October 15, 2022. Liz’s attorney moves diligently to serve the defendant with the lawsuit. Liz’s claim survives and she has avoided the statute of limitations.
Liz keeps her claim. Be like Liz (but call your attorney much, much earlier).
Georgia Statutes of Limitation in State Court vs. Federal Court
The statute of limitations for your personal injury case is almost always the same whether the proper court for your claim is a Georgia State Court (e.g., a county’s State or Superior Court) or in Federal Court. This is because a federal court hearing state law claims (which includes almost all types of injury claims) must apply the substantive law of the state in which the federal court sits. (This rule is known in legal parlance as “the Eerie doctrine,” from a 1938 U.S. Supreme Court case called Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64.)
If the final date falls on a weekend or a holiday, you have through midnight the next business day to timely file a lawsuit.
Exceptions to Georgia’s Statute of Limitation
There are a few exceptions that extend the normal 2-year deadline. One of those is that the period of limitations for the claim of a minor does not begin to run until the minor reaches the age of majority (18).
Another exception is that if you were the victim of a crime, your statute of limitations is tolled until the criminal case is adjudicated. This is a particularly important issue for victims of negligent security cases, who are assaulted or killed on the premises of another, such as an apartment complex.
Another exception that extends the 2-year deadline is that in certain professional malpractice claims, the period does not begin to run until the date the injury is discovered—e.g., if a surgeon leaves a set of tweezers in your abdomen on June 1 but you don’t start having symptoms until June 14, then the statutory period would be 2 years from June 14. Note that Georgia appellate cases are very strict against the injury victim in those scenarios. Generally, the first date on which you notice any symptom that would suggest something is wrong, even if you don’t know for certain why you are having symptoms, then you should be sure to file the claim by two years from that date.
One extremely unique (and very “2020”) exception comes from the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 14, 2020, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a Judicial Emergency Order (“JEO”) tolling (a fancy legal word for “delaying”) the statute of limitations period for any claims that were set to expire during the period that the JEO was in effect. This period was extended through subsequent JEOs, and ultimately ended on July 14, 2020. Therefore, any claim that was set to expire between March 14, 2020 and July 14, 2020 was tolled by that Order. What remains unclear is whether the JEO also tolled statutes of limitations that fell after the expiration of the Order.
Note, there are other laws controlling things you must do to preserve certain types of claims, including complying with ante litem statutes if the at-fault party is a local or state government entity. More on that topic in an upcoming article.
Statutes of limitation are just one of many critical issues you must properly navigate to recover for an injury claim. Call 404-990-3388 today for a free consultation with attorney Arthur York to discuss yours.