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Georgia Court Reviews Timeliness of Lawsuit for Injuries Arising from Car Accident

A person who has been injured in a car accident may be entitled to bring an action against the negligent driver – to recover damages for any suffering and other losses. Essentially, the law serves to protect the person who has sustained injuries at the expense of another’s negligence. While most people understand these basic rights, many do not realize the intricate legal steps that must be followed in order to successfully file their case. One way to ensure that your case is properly stated and filed is to consult with an experienced injury attorney who is fully aware of the legal requirements that govern the courts in and around the Atlanta area.

In addition to making sure that your lawsuit fully states a claim for which relief may be granted, the plaintiff must file the complaint and serve the defendant(s) within a time period specified by law, also known as the statute of limitations. In some cases, the plaintiff may file the complaint within the statute of limitation, but fail to serve defendant within the requisite time. When that happens, the courts will look to the facts of each case to decide whether the service is proper.

In a recent case, Callaway v. Goodwin (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), the plaintiff sued the defendant for injuries arising from a car accident. She filed the lawsuit on August 7, 2012, just three days before the statute of limitations expired (August 10th). The local Sheriff’s office perfected service on August 22nd, quite a number of days after the statute’s expiration. Under the local statute, plaintiffs are granted a five-day grace period within which to perfect service. That did not happen in this case.

Six months later, the defendant moved to dismiss the action due to a violation of the statute of limitations. Even though plaintiff presented evidence that she properly addressed the summons and paid the service fee at the time she filed the complaint, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss. The court found that plaintiff only paid the filing fees and not the service fee, thereby contributing to the delay in service on defendant. Plaintiff appealed.

The court of appeals may not disturb a lower court’s finding on whether a plaintiff exercised due diligence in serving a defendant – unless there has been an abuse of discretion. Here, the court found that the undisputed facts show the plaintiff in fact paid the filing fees when she filed the properly addressed summons to be served upon the defendant. Apart from the trial court’s unsupported finding that plaintiff failed to pay the filing fees, there was no other stated justification for its conclusion that plaintiff lacked due diligence in serving defendant. Therefore, the court of appeals reversed the decision due to its reliance on an unsupported finding of fact. Further, the court noted that under Georgia law, reliance on the sheriff to perfect service in a timely fashion is not a reason alone to find that due diligence was lacking.

As this case illustrates, a plaintiff’s lawsuit for injuries arising from a car accident must comply with many procedural and substantive legal requirements. An experienced injury attorney can help to ensure that your case is effectively presented.

Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of 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.

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