You’ll find plenty of blogs about the Statute of Limitations of various types of cases in Georgia around the web. For the most part, they’re cut and dried. As a quick refresher, I’ll start with the basics. Then I want to talk about two aspects of the Statute of Limitations in Georgia most lawyers don’t write about which might actually save your butt one day.
It’s not the “statue of limitations; It’s the “STATUTE of Limitations”
The statute of limitations is a law that establishes the time period in which legal proceedings must begin. If you do not file a lawsuit within this time period, you lose the right to file. Basic statutes of limitations are:
The Georgia statute of limitations for libel and slander claims is two years from the date of injury. O.C.G.A. §9-3-33
The Georgia statute of limitations for libel and slander claims is one year. O.C.G.A. §9-3-33 Georgia Fraud Cases The Georgia statute of limitations for fraud claims is one year. O.C.G.A. §9-3-33
Although there are nuances under the discovery rule, as a general rule, Georgia malpractice claims are barred after two years from the date of the injury and there is a statute of repose barring suit after five years even if the wrong went undiscovered until then. O.C.G.A. §9-3-71
The Georgia statute of limitations for claims for damage to property (cars, houses, dogs, cows, etc.) is four years. O.C.G.A. §9-3-32
The Georgia statute of limitations for breach of written contract claims is six years. O.C.G.A. §9-3-24 Oral contracts only get four years.
The Renewal Statute Georgia’s renewal statute reads:
When any case has been commenced in either a state or federal court within the applicable statute of limitations and the plaintiff discontinues or dismisses the same, it may be recommenced in a court of this state or in a federal court either within the original applicable period of limitations or within six months after the discontinuance or dismissal, whichever is later . . . ; provided, however, if the dismissal or discontinuance occurs after the expiration of the applicable period of limitation, this privilege of renewal shall be exercised only once.
OCGA 9-2-61 (a).
So great, right?! If I file a case before the statute of limitation runs, and I decide to dismiss it, I can recommence it within 6 months whether the statute of limitations has run or not.
There are plenty of nuances to this statute but I want to look at 2 in particular.
1. “ Case commenced within the applicable statute of limitations”
The renewal statute only applies for a case that has “commenced” within the applicable statute of limitations. What does “commenced” mean? A case is only commenced after it is filed with the clerk of court and the defendant is served. A case can’t be commenced unless the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. If a defendant is never served, the complaint is void for lack of service.
What if you file the case within the SOL but can’t perfect service until after the statute runs? There are numerous cases on point but the bottom line is to go to the ends of the earth to get the defendant served and don’t stop trying until you do otherwise the court will throw the case out for a lack of diligence in getting service.
Another note about commencement; remember a complaint is void if the defendant is never served. So what happens if a case is filed within the statute of limitations on a personal injury claim, then another case is filed after the SOL runs but the defendant is never served. The first case is voluntarily dismissed and the case is filed again (for the third time) within the six-month deadline. Well, since service was never perfected on the second case, the third case still falls within the 6-month voluntary dismissal rule. See Shy v. Faniel. 663 S.E.2d 841 (2008)
The takeaway here: in order for the renewal statute to come into play, the case has to be commenced. If there’s no service, the case hasn’t commenced.
2. Voluntary dismissal rule – Judgment on the Merits
You can’t voluntarily dismiss a case twice, it acts as a judgment on the merits
A judgment on the merits means a final decision, not just a procedural move.
The bottom line is, do not get close to the edge of the cliff. The statute of limitations can be deadly and should not be trifled with. If you are trying to work a case out on your own, do not wait any closer than 8 months for a medical malpractice case to see a lawyer and 3 months on a personal injury case.