Georgia Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

The basics of Georgia personal injury law, like how long you have to sue, where your case should be filed, what happens if you're partly to blame, and more.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law
Updated 4/26/2024

You've been injured in Georgia by someone else's wrongdoing, and you have questions. How long do I have to sue? Where do I file my lawsuit? Can I sue the State for my injuries? What happens if I'm partly to blame for the accident?

We've got the answers you're after. Starting with Georgia's personal injury statutes of limitations, we'll take you through the basics of Georgia personal injury law.

Georgia Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations

When you've been injured in Georgia, one of the first things you need to know is: How long do I have to file a lawsuit in court? Laws called "statutes of limitations" answer that question. They limit your time to sue by killing your legal claim after a set period of months or years.

Georgia has several personal injury statutes of limitations. Beginning with the state's two-year general rule, here are the two you're most likely to encounter.

Georgia's General Rule: Two Years From the Date of Your Injury

For most Georgia personal injury cases, the filing deadline is found in Ga. Code § 9-3-33 (2024). You must file your lawsuit within two years, typically from the date you were injured. Absent a more specific rule that's a better fit, this is the statute of limitations for lawsuits involving:

Two kinds of claims are excluded from Georgia's two-year rule.

First, when your reputation in the community is harmed by a false statement of fact about you, you have just one year—probably from the date the false statement is first made—to sue for defamation of character. Second, if a family member is injured or killed, you can sue for loss of consortium. You must file your case within four years from the date of injury or death.

Georgia's Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

A number of special rules govern the deadlines for filing a Georgia medical malpractice lawsuit. The basic deadline, found in Ga. Code § 9-3-71(a) (2024), gives you two years to sue for malpractice-related injuries. The two-year clock normally starts on the date you were injured.

Different rules dictate the filing deadlines when:

  • your doctor carelessly leaves a foreign object inside your body and you don't discover it in time, (Ga. Code § 9-3-72 (2024),) or
  • the injured patient is a child younger than five years old. (Ga. Code § 9-3-73(b) (2024).)

Georgia's medical malpractice filing deadlines can be very complicated. Your best bet will be to get advice specific to your case from a Georgia malpractice lawyer.

Is It Possible to Extend Georgia's Personal Injury Filing Deadline?

In some circumstances, yes, Georgia law gives you more time to sue. Here are some examples.

Georgia's "discovery rule." In most personal injury cases, you know you've been injured as soon as it happens. Fall in an icy parking lot and break your wrist, for example, and the pain and other symptoms immediately let you know you're hurt. In cases like that, there's nothing unfair about starting the statute of limitations on the date you're injured.

But what if you don't know right away that you've been harmed? Your time to sue might disappear before you even know you have a legal claim. That's not fair. To address that unfairness, Georgia has adopted the "discovery rule," at least in some cases. Here's how it works.

When you don't know you've been hurt, and you couldn't discover an injury even if you diligently looked for signs and symptoms, the statute of limitations doesn't run from the date of your injury. Instead, it starts on the earlier of:

  • the date you discover your injury and what caused it, or
  • the date you should have discovered your injury and what caused it, had you been reasonably careful.

(See King v. Seitzingers, Inc., 160 Ga. App. 318, 320 (1981).)

Now for the bad news. Georgia's discovery rule doesn't apply in all cases. The Georgia Supreme Court has decided that it should only apply in personal injury cases when your injuries take a long time to develop. (See Corporation of Mercer University v. National Gypsum Co., 258 Ga. 365, 366 (1988).) Also, it doesn't apply in wrongful death lawsuits. (Miles v. Ashland Chemical Co., 261 Ga. 726, 728 (1991).)

Here's the bottom line. If you think the discovery rule gives you more time to sue, don't rely on it until you get advice from an experienced Georgia lawyer. You're in way over your head if you take this issue on by yourself.

Injured person is legally disabled. In Georgia, as in all states, a person who's legally disabled can't manage their own legal matters. Georgia law considers as legally disabled those who are:

  • younger than 18 years old, or
  • intellectually disabled or mentally ill.

When a person who's legally disabled suffers a personal injury giving rise to a legal claim, the statute of limitations doesn't start until the disability ends. (Ga. Code § 9-3-90 (2024).)

Except for children younger than five years old, these extensions don't apply in medical malpractice cases. (Ga. Code § 9-3-73(b) (2024).)

Defendant is absent from Georgia. Suppose that after injuring you, the defendant—anticipating your lawsuit—flees the state. Will that tactic succeed? Maybe not, because Georgia law anticipates just such a move. The applicable statute of limitations doesn't run for any period that the defendant is absent from Georgia. (Ga. Code § 9-3-94 (2024).)

But there's a catch. This rule doesn't apply unless, because of the defendant's absence, you can't start your lawsuit against them. If you're able to get "service of process" on them while they're outside the state (ask your lawyer for details), you can't use this extension. (See Towns v. Brown, 177 Ga. App. 504 (1986).)

What Happens If I Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline In Georgia?

Miss the statute of limitations for your case and—unless there's an extension you can rely on—your legal claim no longer exists. You can't sue on it in court. The party who's responsible for your injuries won't negotiate a settlement with you, because you don't have a claim to settle. In short: Your legal claim is dead, and nothing you do will bring it back to life.

Where Do I File My Georgia Personal Injury Lawsuit?

A word of caution. Unless you're planning to file your personal injury case in one of Georgia's magistrate courts—where the compensation for your injuries ("damages") can't exceed $15,000—you should have a lawyer prepare, file, and handle your personal injury lawsuit. Here's why.

Your suit must comply with (among other things) the Georgia Civil Practice Act and the Georgia Rules of Evidence. At best, these rules can be complicated and hard to understand. Chances are you're not familiar with them, and the time to learn isn't while you're trying to handle your own case. An experienced Georgia trial lawyer knows these rules and how they apply to your lawsuit, and will give you the best chance of a successful outcome.

File in the Proper Court

Georgia Superior Court is the state's court of original, general jurisdiction. This means it's the court where most cases start, and it has the authority to hear nearly all matters, both criminal and civil. There are 49 superior court "circuits" in the state. Each circuit serves one or more of Georgia's 149 counties. Here's a map you can use to find the circuit for your area.

Most Georgia personal injury lawsuits are filed in a superior court. That's probably where your lawyer will file your case, too.

Choose the Correct Location

You're not allowed to file in just any circuit you like. Your lawyer must choose the correct "venue," or location. In most personal injury lawsuits, you can sue in the place where:

  • the defendant lives
  • if the defendant is a company, it has its place of business, or
  • you were hurt.

Can I Sue the State of Georgia for My Personal Injury?

The short answer is: Yes, in some cases, you can sue Georgia for your personal injuries. Your best bet will be to hire an experienced government claims lawyer to represent you. Suing the government isn't like suing a private individual or a business. Lots of special rules apply. If you don't follow them, your case is likely to get kicked out of court.

Most of the rules for bringing personal injury claims against Georgia are found in the Georgia Tort Claims Act. The Act:

  • makes the State legally responsible for certain kinds of claims when the government or a state employee was negligent
  • requires that within 12 months of the date you discover or should have discovered your injury, you give the State written notice of your claim (Ga. Code § 50-21-26(a) (2024),) and
  • caps the State's damages liability at $1 million per person and $3 million per incident. (Ga. Code § 50-21-29(b)(1) (2024).)

Georgia isn't liable for punitive damages. (Ga. Code § 50-21-30 (2024).)

(Learn more about personal injury claims against Georgia.)

What If I'm Partly At Fault for My Injury In Georgia?

To collect damages in the typical personal injury case, you must prove that the defendant's negligence caused your injuries. Quite often, the defendant will argue that you, too, were negligent. By pinning some of the negligence on you, the defendant hopes to reduce or even eliminate the damages you're allowed to recover.

This is a legal defense called "comparative negligence," and it's available in Georgia.

Georgia's Modified Comparative Negligence Rule

Georgia has adopted a modified version of the comparative negligence rule. You can recover some damages for your injuries even if you were partly to blame for what happened, as long as your share of the total negligence isn't 50% or more. Up to this 50% limit, your percentage share of the negligence reduces your damages by that amount. But if you're found 50% or more to blame, you get nothing. (Ga. Code § 51-12-33 (2024).)

How Does Georgia's Modified Comparative Negligence Rule Work?

While driving through an intersection, you were hit by a driver who ran a red light. You were traveling 10 miles per hour above the speed limit at the time. Your lawsuit makes it all the way to trial. The jury decides the other driver was 80% at fault, while you were 20% negligent. Your total damages are $100,000. How much can you collect?

Because you were 20% negligent, you can recover 80% of your total damages: $100,000 x 80% = $80,000. The other driver's insurance company will write you a check for that amount. What would be the result had the jury found you 50% or more to blame? Under Georgia's modified comparative negligence rule, you'd get nothing.

Dog Owner Liability for Bite Injuries in Georgia

Ga. Code § 51-2-7 (2024) makes anyone "who owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous animal" liable when they allow it to run free and the animal injures someone. If a local ordinance requires that the dog be kept on a leash, that's enough to prove the animal had a "vicious propensity." Provocation is a defense to liability under this law.

In addition, when an owner's negligence causes their dog to attack and injure someone, they can be held liable for resulting damages.

Does Georgia Cap Personal Injury Damages?

Several states have enacted limits, or "caps," on personal injury damages. Typically, these laws target "noneconomic" damages for injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and disfigurement. Punitive damages, too, are commonly limited, as are damages in cases against the government.

Georgia's Cap on Medical Malpractice Damages Has Been Ruled Unconstitutional

Georgia law used to cap damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. In Atlantic Oculoplastic Surgery v. Nestlehutt, 286 Ga. 731 (2010), the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that this cap violated Georgia's constitutional guarantee of the right to a jury trial. Georgia law presently doesn't cap medical malpractice damages.

Georgia Caps Punitive Damages In Personal Injury Cases

Georgia limits punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits to $250,000. (Ga. Code § 51-12-5.1(g) (2024).) This cap doesn't apply in product liability cases. So, for example, in a lawsuit over a harmful drug or cancer-causing chemical, the manufacturer can be ordered to pay punitive damages if the plaintiff prevails at trial, with no cap on the amount.

Punitive damages are rare in personal injury lawsuits, so this cap isn't likely to impact the value of your claim.

Get Help With Your Georgia Personal Injury Lawsuit

We've reviewed some of Georgia's basic personal injury laws. While it might seem like a lot, in truth we've only scratched the surface. If you've been hurt and you're thinking about a personal injury claim, there's much more involved. Don't take needless chances with your right to compensation. An experienced Georgia personal injury lawyer knows the laws, court rules, and claim valuation and settlement practices in your area.

The other side in your case will be represented by counsel. You should be, too. When you're ready to move ahead with your case, here's how to find a lawyer who's right for you.

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