Many people are reluctant to call a lawyer after they've been hurt as a result of someone else's actions, but waiting too long can have a detrimental impact on your Georgia injury case. Waiting can even prevent you from having the ability to pursue your injury case in court.
Every day I get phone calls from injured people who want to know if they have a case. Some folks wait far too long to call. Sometimes, because they waited so long to call a lawyer, it may be too late for them to recover for their injuries. Some time limits (called an ante litem notice period for certain government entities) are as short as 6 months from the date of an injury.
One important time limit is called a statute of limitations ('SOL'). Each state has statutes of limitation, and they vary from state to state. In Georgia, the SOL for most injury cases is typically two years from the date the accident/injury occurred. Though it gets complicated, and each case must be analyzed individually to determine the specifically applicable SOL, here are some general statutes of limitation for common cases:
- Personal Injury in Auto/Truck Wrecks -- 2 years from the Date of the Injury ('DOI')
- Personal Injury in Slip and Fall -- 2 years from DOI
- Defective Products -- 2 years from DOI
- Medical Malpractice -- 2 years from DOI
- Foreign Objects (Med Mal) -- 1 year from Date of Discovery
- Injury to Property -- 4 years from Damage
A problem can arise when a person waits too long to call a lawyer, and they are near or past the statute of limitations. Just being too close to the statute of limitations presents challenges as shown by this hypothetical example:
Facts of the Hypothetical Case
- On August 3, 2014 Mary is in a car wreck.
- On July 10, 2016 (just short of two years from the date of the accident) Mary talks to a lawyer to see if she has a claim.
- The only information Mary has to give to the lawyer is a Wreck Report prepared by the Sheriff's Deputy who responded to the scene of the wreck.
- The lawyer recognizes that the statute of limitations is nearing, but the wreck report lists a person named Tom Kupchek as the driver who hit Mary, and a Google search gives his address as 100 Main Street, Macon Georgia with no other Tom Kupchek's appearing in Macon. With this information the lawyer thinks there is enough time to file a lawsuit within the SOL timeframe.
- Tom Kupcheck is named as the defendant in the lawsuit, and he is served with the lawsuit (called a Complaint) at 100 Main Street on August 1, 2016.
August 29, 2016 (past the 2 year statute of limitations period)– Mary & her lawyer receive the Answer to the Complaint (the filed lawsuit). In the Answer, Tom Kupcheck's lawyer says that the SOL has passed, so the lawsuit must be dismissed. Mary's lawyer is perplexed (and getting a little nervous) because the Complaint was filed and Mr. Kupcheck was served with the Complaint before the SOL expired.
Mary's lawyer calls Mr. Kupcheck's lawyer and is told that the Tom Kupcheck who was served with the Complaint is the 3rd cousin of the Tom Kupcheck who was involved in the wreck. They just happen to share the same name. Upon rereading the Answer, Mary's lawyer sees that the same thing is asserted in the Answer.
- Mary's lawyer is getting a little nauseous as he contemplates telling Mary about this. But he tells her the truth, and she understandably says she expects him to do everything he can to protect her from having her lawsuit thrown out.
- Mary's lawyer may still be able to save the lawsuit, but it will take some work, and it may not be successful. Sometimes there are situations that allow a lawyer to use what is called a tolling provision. A tolling provision simply stops the clock from ticking for some time. For example, if an injured person is a child when he is injured, a lawyer may be able to extend the statute of limitations longer than the usual two years for an injury claim. In Mary's case, her lawyer may try to use a tolling provision if he can find one that applies.
Conclusion of the Case
I hope this example shows that just saying the statute of limitations is “two years” doesn't really always mean you can wait two years to file your lawsuit. The far better practice is to file it as soon as you reasonably can, so that you get answers and other information back from the defendants before the statute of limitations expires. In the example with Mary, if the lawsuit had been filed earlier, they would likely have found out about the right Tom Kupchek and been able to add him as the right defendant before the statute of limitations expired.
It's also important to know that there are other time limits that can kill a lawsuit. There may be Statutes of Repose, Ante Litem Notices periods, UM (uninsured motorist) notice provisions, and other deadlines that apply to your individual case. I'll talk about some of those deadlines in another post. Deadlines cause careful personal injury lawyers to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, thinking thoughts like – “Is there a statute of limitation that expires this month?”
As you can see, calling a lawyer promptly after an accident is important. In addition to ensuring you're within the statute of limitations, a lawyer will make sure that any evidence important to your case is preserved, and that witnesses are interviewed while the incident is still fresh in their minds. I urge anyone who has suffered a serious injury due to someone else's negligence to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible about their injuries and the incident that caused them.
Jarome Gautreaux, founder of Gautreaux Law, is an author, professor and attorney with long experience handling all types of personal injury and wrongful death cases. If you've been injured call our office at 478-238-9758 or contact us online and we'll call you at your convenience. Our initial attorney consultation is always free.