Accidents happen all the time. In many of them, people are injured. If you are injured, to recover compensation for your injury, you must file a lawsuit before a legal deadline. The deadline is called the statute of limitations. If you don’t file in time, your case will be “time-barred” and a Court will dismiss or throw it out shortly after you file it. For that reason, you should retain a conscientious, experienced personal injury lawyer shortly after getting hurt to make sure that your suit does not become time barred.
The Default Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury
Absent other circumstances (and the Covid-19 pandemic is one of those circumstances)., the statute of limitations for personal injuries, such as those stemming from an injury on in a parking lot, car wreck or due to medical malpractice, is two years in Georgia. What that means is that you must actually file a lawsuit within two years of the date you were injured. Unless an exception applies, then your case will be dismissed if you file too late. You will be forever barred from seeking recovery for your personal injuries.
Running of Statute of Limitations Suspended due to the Covid-19 Pandemic
Sometimes, the deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit can be extended to more than two years. When this happens, it is called “tolling” the statute of limitations. Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Supreme Court of Georgia under its powers to grant judicial emergencies, tolled the statute of limitations. Actually, what the Judicial Emergency Orders issued by the Supreme Court of Georgia did was suspend the running of the statute of limitations from March 14, 2020 through July 14, 2020. In other words, the Statute of Limitations did not run during this time.
So whatever time you had to file your case as of March 14, 2020, as of July 14, 2020, you had the same time to file your case as you had on March 14, 2020. However, even though we have remained in a pandemic and various Emergency Orders have been in place after July 14, 2020, those subsequent orders DO NOT further suspend the Statute of Limitations.
Some examples will hopefully help illustrate. Say you were injured on December 23, 2018. Ordinarily, the statute of limitations would have run and you would have lost right to bring your case had you not filed suit on or before December 23, 2020. However, the Statute of Limitations was suspended and thus did not run during the period of March 14, 2020 through July 14, 2020, a period of 122 days. Thus you would add 122 days to December 23, 2020. The new Statute of Limitations date for your lawsuit would be March 27, 2021 (assuming I did my calculations accurately).
However, if you were injured between March 14, 2020 and July 14, 2020, you do not add 122 days. Again, the statute of limitations was merely suspended during this time such that the statute of limitations would begin to run July 15, 2020. So, if you were injured anytime between March 14, 2020 and July 14, 2020, the way I interpret the Order, the Statute of Limitations for your lawsuit would run July 15, 2022. Of course, if you were injured July 15, 2020 or later, the statute of limitations would remain two years from the date you were injured.
Just because you now have additional time to file a lawsuit, does not mean you should delay calling a lawyer and it does not mean you should delay filing suit in your case. Even in the simplest case, lawyers typically need months of lead time to investigate your case, obtain relevant medical records and bills, locate the at-fault party to get him personally served, etc. before filing suit. If you wait until just a few months before the statute expires to contact a lawyer, you might find no lawyer will take your case. Furthermore, failing to call a lawyer shortly after suffering an injury may jeopardize your case in ways you would not expect. Needed evidence may be lost. Proper parties and insurers may not be put on notice. In short, if you have been seriously injured due to the fault of another, get a good lawyer on your side as soon as possible.
Furthermore, no good lawyer wants to rely on this extension, which defense lawyers and insurance companies may interpret differently, when taking and filing your personal injury case. Personally, I am still calendaring the original statute dates on all my personal injury cases irrespective of the statute of limitations suspension. While the Order and published guidance is relatively clear (as legal wording goes), I have seen and heard of some rather bizarre interpretations from colleagues. If any lawyer tells you not to worry, they have plenty of time to file on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, you may want to consult with another lawyer.
Other Tolling Exceptions
There are a number of other tolling exceptions to the running of the statute, and these are the more common other exceptions.
- If you are not yet 18 years old when you get hurt, the statute of limitations will not begin to run until your 18th birthday.
- If you are legally incompetent because of intellectual disability or mental illness at the time of the accident, or become legally incompetent within two years after the accident through no fault of your own, then the statute of limitations is tolled until such time as you regain competence.
- If the person who hurt you is prosecuted for a crime arising out of the accident, such as driving under the influence or even speeding, the two-year statute of limitations is tolled “until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated,” except that the ultimate deadline for filing suit will not be extended more than six years from the date of the accident.
- If the accident resulted in death, then the time between the person’s death and the commencement of representation of the person’s estate is not counted, provided that period of time is no more than five years. However, this exception is only for damages that the estate could recover such as medical bills between the time of injury and death, it does not toll time to bring claim for the actual loss of the life of a family member.
Act Swiftly When Suing Government Entities
Georgia law, like the laws of many other states, requires an injured person to give notice to a government entity if the person plans to sue that entity for personal injuries. Although technically, these deadlines are not a statute of limitations, the effect is the same: If you don’t give notice of your claim within the time period, then your claim is barred. Two of the most common time limits are six months when bringing a claim against city and twelve months when against a county or state.
Strategize With Counsel Over When To File
An injured person should consult with counsel soon after the accident. To develop a personal injury case properly takes time, so the sooner a person sees a lawyer, the better.
Before filing suit, your lawyer will want to make sure that you have healed to the extent possible so that the lawyer can recover the greatest possible amount of damages for you. It would do you no good to file, then settle your case after six months, if new injuries from the accident emerged after a year. The lawyer will also want to develop and document your case property by gathering evidence and consulting with your doctors.
To avoid the statute of limitations running, you should consult an attorney soon after an accident. You should interview an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as you can so that the attorney will have time to develop your case fully well before the statutory deadline to file suit.