Georgia law sets limits on when survivors or the personal representative of an estate can file a cause of action for wrongful death.
Statute of Limitations
Known as a “statute of limitations,” the civil law delineates time periods in which an injured person (i.e., the plaintiff) can file a lawsuit against a wrongdoer (i.e., the defendant). These time periods vary state by state, as well as by the type of action being brought. So, for example, the statute of limitations applicable to a breach of contract action in Georgia (4 years), may be different than that applicable to a cause of action for personal injury (2 years).
These time deadlines are strictly construed by the courts. Miss the time period specified by the law for filing your case, and your action is, with very few exceptions, forever barred.
There is a good reason for this, however. The purpose of the statute of limitations is to provide a sense of “repose” in the law. In other words, these laws operate to keep the impending doom of a lawsuit from hanging over a defendant’s head forever. By cutting off a plaintiff’s time for bringing his or her lawsuit, the law ensures that grievances will be dealt with in a timely manner.
When Does the Statute Begin to Run?
Given the time constraints imposed by a statute of limitations, one of the most important questions to ask is, “when does the statute begin to run?”.
The answer to this question depends on the type of claim being filed and your state’s laws. So, if you have suffered a wrong, seek expert advice.
Generally speaking, however, most statutes of limitations begin to run on the date that the injury occurred. In other words, it starts to run on the date that the plaintiff knew or should have known about the injury or claim that is the basis for their lawsuit.
So, for example, a breach of contract action would begin to run on the date the plaintiff became aware of the breach. While a personal injury action related to a car accident, for example, would begin to run on the date the plaintiff was aware (or should have been aware) that he or she was injured. (While this is often the date of the accident, nothing is ever that simple and every case is unique. Which is why hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer is important.)
What is Tolling and How Can it Affect Your Wrongful Death Claim?
Once you understand what the statute of limitations is and when it begins to run, the next thing to understand is when it might be “tolled.”
The tolling of a statute of limitations essentially stops the clock from running.
Because wrongful death actions concern the death of a person, which can happen in any number of ways—everything from intentional killings, to defective products, and more—they are cases that may be affected by the tolling of the statute of limitations.
For example, if the death of a person was caused by some criminal act, like an intentional shooting, and there is a criminal case dealing with the situation, then the wrongful death action (suing for civil liability for the same thing) can be “tolled” until the criminal case has been completed. Once the criminal case has been completed, the civil law statute of limitations will start to run again.
Understanding the statute of limitations, how it applies to your case, and when it can be tolled, is critical. Which is why, if you are filing or thinking of filing a wrongful death action, you should have experienced counsel at your side.
Personal Injury Attorneys in Cumming, Georgia.
The personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Mark Weinstein, P.C., are here to help you. We serve clients in Atlanta, and in several counties throughout Georgia, including: Clayton County, Cobb County, Dekalb County, Douglas County, Fulton County, and Paulding County, among others. To find out how we can help you, call us at: 770-888-7707. Or contact us here.