If you lost a loved one in an Atlanta accident that you believe was caused by someone’s carelessness, you might be wondering whether you should file a wrongful death lawsuit. You’ve probably never filed a lawsuit. You might wonder whether a lawsuit can do any good. A lawsuit can’t bring your loved one back to life. But, it can help you bring closure to the traumatic event that killed your loved one. Additionally, by holding the negligent party(ies) accountable in court, you can help ensure that they don’t harm anyone else in the future.
A lawsuit also gives you the opportunity to recover financial compensation for your losses. Money can fix what can be fixed and make up for what otherwise cannot be fixed. For instance,
if you lost your spouse or a parent after they were hospitalized for an extended time period following a catastrophic incident, you might be facing staggering medical bills. If your spouse was the primary or sole breadwinner in your family, you might not be able to pay those bills. Wrongful death compensation can help you and your family remain financially stable.
It’s important to give yourself some time to process your loved one’s death before making a decision to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, you do not have an unlimited amount of time to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Sooner, rather than later, you should contact a skilled Atlanta wrongful death attorney because wrongful death claims in Georgia have a legal filing deadline, known as the statute of limitations.
To discuss the Georgia wrongful death statute of limitations and how it applies to your case, contact Allen & Scofield Injury Lawyers, LLC through our online contact form or by calling (404) 419-6674. We offer free, no-risk consultations, where we can discuss the best course of action to secure what you need and deserve.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is the time frame set under state law that dictates how long you have to file certain legal claims.
You can think of the statute of limitations like a clock. At a definite point, the clock begins to run. In Georgia, the clock usually begins to run the moment that your loved passed away. Once the statute of limitations expires, you can still file your lawsuit, but the court will usually dismiss your lawsuit before you ever have the opportunity to present your case to a jury. A court will not agree to let your case proceed unless you can show that there is a valid legal reason that the statute of limitations should be extended.
The Georgia Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
According to Georgia Code §9-3-33, personal injury lawsuits must be filed within two years after the “right of action accrues.”
For a wrongful death claim in Georgia, the right of action (a.k.a. the right to file a lawsuit) arises the day your relative passed away. That typically gives you two years from the date of your loved one’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
That being said, many factors can impact the statute of limitations in Georgia. You should speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney to determine how long your family or your loved one’s estate might have to pursue a claim.
The Georgia Wrongful Death Statute
GA Code §§51-4-1 through 51-4-6 define Georgia’s wrongful death laws. Those statutes explain when a wrongful death claim arises, who may file a wrongful death lawsuit, and the types of damages surviving family members, or the estate, are entitled to recover. If your loved one passed away because of someone else’s negligence, you might be able to help your family or your relative’s estate by filing a wrongful death lawsuit and recovering compensation for the estate.
According to Georgia Code §51-4-2, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by a surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, the decedent’s children may file the lawsuit. If you are the surviving spouse or child, you may recover compensation that will be divided amongst the surviving relatives. A surviving spouse is entitled to receive at least one-third of the recovery.
Pursuant to Georgia Code §51-4-5, it also is possible for your loved one’s estate to file a wrongful death lawsuit. That occurs when there is not a surviving spouse or child to file a claim. The administrator or executor of the estate files the claim and pursues compensation on behalf of the estate and the decedent’s next of kin. The executor can pursue damages, which may include the full value of the decedent’s life and for funeral, medical, and other losses related to the decedent’s injuries and death.
Factors That May Impact the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
The two-year wrongful death statute of limitations in Georgia is a general rule. There are several exceptions to that rule that can contract, or extend, the statute of limitations.
The most common reason that your family would have less than two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit is when the at-fault party is a government entity. For instance, the government would be the party defendant if your loved one was killed in a vehicle collision with a Georgia government vehicle, such as a police car. When are injured by a federal, state, county, or city agency vehicle, you typically have to file your claim as soon as possible. The exact deadline depends on the type of government agency that injured you. You should speak with our wrongful death lawyers at Allen & Scofield Injury Lawyers, LLC right away if you believe the government is at fault.
There are also several factors that could extend (otherwise known as “toll”) Georgia’s two-year statute of limitations period to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
When the statute of limitations is “tolled”, or “paused”, you have more time to file your lawsuit. Reasons for tolling the statute of limitations are explained in GA Code §§9-3-90 through 9-3-99. A common reason for the Georgia wrongful death statute of limitations to be tolled is when the at-fault party committed a crime. You may not have to file a civil wrongful death lawsuit until the criminal matter is resolved. If your loved one was killed in a car accident and the at-fault driver was cited for committing a traffic violation, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the traffic citation is administratively terminated in court.
Other reasons for tolling the statute of limitations include:
- A person’s imprisonment or disability when a cause of action arises
- A person is a minor when a cause of action arises
- The time in which a person’s estate is unrepresented, but not beyond five years
- The defendant’s fraud, which may be discovered at a date after the decedent’s death
- Matters related to medical malpractice
The Discovery Rule in Georgia
When you are researching about Georgia wrongful death claims and the statute of limitations, you might read about the “discovery rule.” It is important for you to know that Georgia does not follow the discovery rule with regard to wrongful death actions.
In other states, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until you know or reasonably should know that you have a legal claim. In other words, you may learn your loved one passed away in an accident. But, you may not know for weeks or months that another person, business, or municipality’s negligence was the cause. According to the discovery rule in other states, the clock does not begin to run until you know or should know about the negligent conduct that caused your loved one’s death. However, in Georgia, that is not true. The two-year statute of limitations begins the day your loved one passed away regardless of when you discovered how they died – unless another tolling exception applies, as discussed above.
Speak to a Georgia Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
If you recently lost a loved one in an accident, and you believe that another party was at fault, then you should speak with one of the veteran trial lawyers at Allen & Scofield Injury Lawyers, LLC about the Georgia wrongful death statute of limitations. Although you must feel devastated right now, it’s important that you know how long that you have to file a lawsuit so that you do not lose your opportunity to obtain justice for your loved one’s death.
With over three decades of experience and a proud history of providing compassionate, yet tenacious legal representation, Allen & Scofield Injury Lawyers, LLC will help you obtain justice.