Published on:

Georgia Court Reviews Timeliness of Plaintiffs’ Personal Injury Claims Against County

police-cruiser-1066864-mA fundamental aspect of any car accident claim is the need to file the action in a timely manner. If a plaintiff fails to comply with the applicable “statute of limitations” for filing the action, a court could very well dismiss the complaint. The key word here is “applicable,” since the time period may not be the same for every type of case. The law can become quite complicated and impose different requirements depending on the facts and circumstances of the matter. If you have been injured in a car accident, the statute of limitations begins running from the moment of the incident. For this reason, in order to sufficiently protect your rights at the outset, you are encouraged to contact an experienced injury lawyer from the Atlanta area as soon as possible after the accident.

When an injured party seeks to file a claim against a local county, there are unique rules to follow. Under Georgia law § 36-11-1, all claims against counties must be presented within 12 months after they accrue. Unfortunately, in a recent case, Warnell et al. v. Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), the plaintiffs filed their personal injury claims arising from a car accident 22 months after the incident occurred, and they were precluded from presenting their case. According to the record, in February 2011, the plaintiffs were driving near an intersection in Athens, Georgia when a police officer drove through a red light and collided with their vehicle. The County maintained an insurance policy on the patrol car in the amount of $1 million in automobile liability coverage.

In January 2013, the plaintiffs filed an action against the County, claiming that the driver had been injured in the collision. The plaintiffs admitted that they did not provide the County with formal written notice of their claims. The County moved for summary judgment, arguing that the claims were barred by the 12-month statute of limitations requirement. The plaintiffs responded by arguing that the County’s limited waiver of sovereign immunity under another state statute (§ 33-24-51 – due to the liability insurance on the car) barred the County from raising the 12-month statute of limitations. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the County, concluding that the time period set forth in the statute is completely unrelated to the County’s limited waiver of immunity under § 33-24-51. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the immunity statute limits the County’s defenses to those that would be available to a private person.

The court of appeals reviewed the interplay of both state statutes and ultimately affirmed the decision, refusing to interpret § 33-24-51 in accordance with the plaintiffs’ arguments. The court noted that § 33-24-51 is expressly limited to defenses concerning sovereign immunity and that the statute does not “implicate” the statute of limitations requirement found in § 36-11-1. Here, since the plaintiffs failed to file their claim within the 12-month time period after its accrual, their claim was barred.

This case is a good illustration of the importance of understanding Georgia law and how it applies to your particular case. To avoid losing an important opportunity to recover damages for your suffering and losses, be sure to contact an experienced injury attorney who can handle your auto accident case with knowledge and awareness of all applicable state laws.  Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of another person’s negligent driving in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

Related Blog Posts:

Georgia Court Overturns Summary Judgment in Car Accident Case

In Car Accident Case, Exclusion in Insurance Policy Fails to Comply With Georgia Law

Georgia Court Rules in Favor of City of Atlanta in Tort Action