Is there Any Way to Get Around the Statute of Limitations in Georgia Car Accident Case?

time dissolvingThe good news is; if the other driver got a traffic ticket as a result of the car accident, you can get around the statute of limitations in Georgia.  Knowing the applicable statute of limitations is the first step in any personal injury claim. Even when the typical two year statute of limitations has passed, an exception may still apply, as one recent case before a Georgia appeals court illustrates.

The Facts of the Case of Williams v. Durden

On October 16, 2014, two drivers were involved in a car accident in Fayetteville, Georgia. A police officer responded to the scene and issued the defendant a traffic citation for following too closely. The citation listed November 18, 2014, as the final date to contest the citation. The defendant paid the citation on October 27, 2014, and the bond was forfeited on November 18, 2014. The plaintiff filed a personal injury claim against the defendant on November 10, 2016.

Tolling the Statute of Limitations

Tolling a statute of limitations allows a plaintiff to freeze the statute of limitations from running for a period of time. In Georgia, under OCGA 9-3-33, there is a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Common exceptions to the Statute of limitations include if the plaintiff is a minor, in which case the statute is tolled and does not start running until the minor reaches the age of 18. Another exception is for wrongful death cases where the Estate of the deceased has a 5 year statute of limitations to file the case if it is not formed or two years from the date of formation. In the appellate case we are discussing here though we are dealing with tolling because of a traffic ticket. Under OCGA 9-3-99, the statute of limitations may be tolled for a claim brought by the victim of an alleged crime for a tort arising out of the same facts and circumstances until the criminal prosecution becomes final or is otherwise terminated.

The Issue in the Case

The defendant argued that the claim was barred by the two-year statute of limitations because even though it was tolled, the Defendant argued that the important deadline date ran on the anniversary of paying the ticket, not on the anniversary of the Court closing the case and entering a disposition, some weeks later. The defendant asserted that even if the plaintiff's claim was tolled, the prosecution became final when she paid the citation on October 27, 2014, which would mean that the statute of limitations had run before the lawsuit was filed. The plaintiff argued that the prosecution was pending until November 18, 2014, when the municipal court forfeited the defendant’s bond. The trial court agreed with the defendant, and dismissed the lawsuit, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Court’s Decision

The Georgia appeals court explained that the certified copy of the defendant’s citation showed that the “action” disposing of the case was “bond forfeiture” and that the disposition date was November 18, 2014. In addition, the docket record from municipal court listed the court date as November 18, 2014, and that the finding in the case was “bond forfeiture.” The court explained that although the defendant had already paid her ticket, the citation was pending until November 18, 2014, when the judge forfeited the defendant’s bond and disposed of the case. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated the claim.

Call us to discuss if you are dealing with a similar case where you were told the statute has run. This is what we do for a living and the consultation is free, so there is no downside.