After any kind of traffic accident in Georgia, if you've been injured and/or incurred significant vehicle damage, you may want to explore your options for holding the at-fault driver financially responsible for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few Georgia laws that could have a big impact on your case.
A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a time limit on a potential plaintiff’s right to bring a lawsuit. These deadlines vary depending on the kind of harm you suffered and/or the kind of case you want to file.
(Note: the statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim -- or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim -- "promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)
Georgia is like most states in that the statute of limitations that applies to a car accident lawsuit will usually be the same as the one that applies to most personal injury cases. Georgia Code section 9-3-33 says "Actions for injuries to the person shall be brought within two years after the right of action accrues."
That’s just a fancy (or confusing) way of saying that after a car accident, an injury claim must be filed by anyone who was hurt in the crash -- whether a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian -- within two years. The clock starts running on the date of the accident.
If the car accident caused someone’s death, and the family wants to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver who caused the crash, the deadline for filing that kind of lawsuit is also two years. But keep in mind that the clock starts running on the date of the victim’s death, which might be different from the date of the accident itself.
Finally, if you want to file a lawsuit over vehicle damage caused by the accident, the statute of limitations for injuries to "personalty" (that's Georgia Code section 9-3-31) gives you four years to get the case started.
Having read all this, you may be wondering what happens if the statute of limitations deadline has passed, but you try to file your car accident lawsuit anyway. In that situation, the defendant (that’s the person you’re trying to sue) will point out the passage of the deadline in a motion to dismiss, and the court will almost certainly grant the dismissal. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your situation.
Finally, from a strategic standpoint, it’s always a good idea to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit, even if you think your case will be resolved through a car insurance settlement. Keeping all your options on the table will give you more leverage during settlement talks. So if the statute of limitations filing deadline is close, it may be time to talk with an experienced Georgia car accident attorney.
"Comparative fault" refers to the situation where more than one party is at least partially at fault for an accident. States follow different approaches in this scenario.
In a Georgia personal injury lawsuit, you can recover against any party who was more at-fault than you were, but your damages (your financial recovery) will be reduced by a percentage that corresponds to your share of liability. In legalese, this means Georgia is a "modified comparative negligence" state.
Of course, this rule controls judge or jury awards in civil lawsuits (if you get to that stage). But before you get to that point, a car insurance claims adjuster will negotiate a settlement with an eye on Georgia's comparative fault rules. Keep in mind that because there is not a precise method to apportion fault empirically, the ultimate decision as to fault will depend on your ability to negotiate with an insurance claim adjuster, or to convince a judge or jury.
To see how this rule plays out in real life, we’ll take a look at an example. Let’s say you're driving a few miles-per-hour over the speed limit when another driver suddenly makes a left turn in front of you. Without enough time to stop, you collide with the other car. The other driver is found to be 80 percent at fault, but since you were speeding, the jury (or adjuster) figures that you were 20 percent at fault for the accident. If you would otherwise be entitled to a $10,000 award or settlement, it would be reduced to $8,000 based on your 20-percent share of fault.
One last note: You will not be able to recover anything at all under Georgia's modified comparative negligence rule if your share of fault for the accident meets or exceeds 50 percent.
Car insurance is certain to play a part in any claim that's made after a car accident. Georgia, like most states, requires vehicle owners to maintain certain minimum amounts of liability coverage. So, understanding the Georgia auto insurance rules is essential to any potential car accident case.