How Long Is the Statute of Limitations for a Car Accident in Georgia?
A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit. The time in which a lawsuit may be filed is called a “limitations period.” When the limitations period expires, the right to file a lawsuit is lost.
It might seem unfair to cut off the right to file a lawsuit, but limitations periods serve important interests. They encourage people and businesses that have legal claims to resolve those claims promptly, while evidence is still fresh. They also allow people to move forward with their lives without worrying that a lawsuit is on the horizon.
Each state sets its own limitations period for filing different types of lawsuits. For instance, most states allow more time to sue for a breach of contract than for a car collision. The limitations period for a motor vehicle collision depends on the state in which the collision occurred.
Georgia’s Car Accident Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for Georgia motor vehicle collisions is found in section 9-3-33 of the Georgia Code. A lawsuit for injuries caused by a car accident must be filed within 2 years after the right to sue “accrues.”
In car accident cases, the right to sue usually accrues on the date of the collision. However, the 2-year window can be “tolled” which means paused pending a criminal investigation or possible investigation up to 6 years. A personal injury lawyer can determine whether any of the exceptions to that rule might cause the right to sue to accrue on a later date.
Georgia’s 2-year limitations period is fairly short, but not unusual. Almost half of all states have a 2-year statute of limitations period for car accident injuries. Other states have limitations periods ranging from 1 to 6 years.
Exceptions to the Georgia Car Accident Limitations Period
The 2-year limitations period applies to most car accidents in Georgia, but there are exceptions. For example, if the injured driver was driving for work and wants to bring a workers’ compensation claim instead of a personal injury claim (the usual strategy when the accident was caused by the injury victim’s own carelessness), the deadline for making a workers’ comp claim is much shorter. Injury victims in that situation should get advice from both a personal injury lawyer and a workers’ compensation lawyer.
An injury victim who is under the age of 18 at the time of the accident will usually be able to file a personal injury lawsuit at any time before reaching the age of 20. Accident victims who are legally incompetent because of a mental disability when the accident occurs also have a longer period of time in which to sue.
A shorter limitations period applies to claims against counties and to county employees who caused an accident while working. That limitations period is usually 12 months from the date of the accident.
Georgia law also requires injury victims to give formal notice of their claim to the state, county, municipality, or other governmental entities if the claim will be made against the government or its employee. Notice to the state must be given within 1 year and to local governments within 6 months. Notice requirements prior to suing the government are not limitations periods, but they are strictly enforced. The failure to give timely notice may lead to a loss of the right to bring a successful lawsuit. It is essential to consult a lawyer immediately when a car accident is caused by a government employee.
Bringing the Lawsuit in Another State
When a limitations period expires, a personal injury lawyer might explore the possibility of bringing the lawsuit in a state that has a longer limitations period. In cases involving an accident in Georgia between two Georgia residents, the law typically requires the lawsuit to be brought in Georgia, preventing the injury victim from taking advantage of a longer limitations period in another state.
In unusual cases, however, circumstances might allow the lawsuit to be filed in a different state. When the negligent driver was a resident of a different state or was engaged in work-related driving for an out-of-state employer, it might be possible to file the lawsuit outside of Georgia. That isn’t automatically true, so a Georgia personal injury lawyer will need to examine both Georgia law and the law of the other state to determine whether the circumstances permit a lawsuit to be filed elsewhere.
In most cases, however, the expiration of the Georgia limitations period ends the right to sue for car accident injuries that occurred in Georgia. That makes it very important to consult a Georgia car accident lawyer as soon as possible after an accident occurs. The attorney will want to conduct a prompt investigation while evidence is still fresh, and may try to settle the case without filing suit. All of that requires the lawyer to become involved well before the deadline for filing a lawsuit is reached.