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Georgia Court Affirms Dismissal of Car Accident Case, Citing Improper Service of Process

When a plaintiff initiates a car accident case against an alleged defendant, he or she must be absolutely certain to comply with any applicable legal procedural requirements under Georgia law. For instance, the state code mandates that actions for injuries to a person must be brought within two years after the right of action accrues (or the date of the accident). Furthermore, the plaintiff must file the complaint and “serve” the defendant in accordance with state requirements. Failing to comply with these provisions could easily result in a dismissal of one’s claim, leaving the injured party with no legal recourse for recovery. To help avoid this unfortunate outcome, it is important to consult with a local Atlanta injury attorney who is fully aware of the laws affecting your particular claim.

In a recent car accident case, Covault v. Harris (Ga. Ct. of App. 2016), the plaintiff filed a complaint against a driver from Kentucky to recover damages for injuries he suffered in a car accident. The parties were both driving northbound on Peachtree Street in Fulton County when they reached an intersection, and the defendant failed to stay in his own lane and struck the plaintiff’s vehicle. A police officer arrived at the scene and prepared a report, listing the defendant’s address as 5406 Heafer Farm Lane, Louisville, Kentucky.

Through the assistance of an investigator, the plaintiff’s counsel discovered additional possible addresses for the defendant. Almost two years after the accident occurred, the plaintiff filed this action with the local court and attempted to serve the defendant with a copy of the complaint and a summons by certified mail to one of the addresses revealed in the investigation, not the Heafer Farm Lane address. The plaintiff further served a copy of the summons and complaint on Georgia’s Secretary of State, in accordance with the Georgia Nonresident Motorist Act (the “NRMA”). Two weeks later, the statute of limitations for personal injury actions expired.

The defendant responded to the action by claiming that there was an insufficient service of process and a lack of personal jurisdiction. He further moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the statute of limitations had expired and that the plaintiff was out of time to properly serve the defendant. Under the NRMA, a plaintiff is required to serve the summons and complaint on the Secretary of State and the defendant. The trial court granted the motion dismissing the action, concluding that the plaintiff failed to effect service on the defendant under the NRMA, and the limitations period had expired. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the court erred in dismissing the case.

The court of appeals affirmed the decision, finding that based on the record, the plaintiff failed to comply with the service requirements of the NRMA. Georgia law requires that the procedure for personal service must be complied with strictly. Without proper legal service, a court does not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Here, the plaintiff knew about the proper address as recorded in the police report at the time of the accident, but he failed to use that address when attempting to effectuate service, except after the statute of limitations had run.

Unfortunately, the plaintiff is now without recourse and is unable to recover damages for his injuries. This case is a prime example of the absolute need to know and adhere to applicable laws in any automobile accident or personal injury case. Stephen M. Ozcomert is an injury lawyer with over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of another’s negligence in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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