If you're thinking about filing a personal injury claim after any kind of accident in Georgia, a number of state laws could come into play, in or out of court. From a car insurance claim to a slip and fall lawsuit—and every type of mishap in between—you'll want to understand how these laws apply to your injury case.
A law called a "statute of limitations" applies to all civil lawsuits filed in Georgia's court system. Georgia Code section 9-3-33 says that any lawsuit over bodily injury must be filed within two years. The clock usually starts running on the date of the accident.
It's crucial to understand and abide by Georgia's statute of limitations in injury cases, because if you try to file your lawsuit after the two-year window has closed, the court will almost certainly refuse to consider your case, and you'll lose your right to get compensation for your injuries. This potentially harsh result only underscores the importance of complying with the statute of limitation.
In certain circumstances, the statute of limitations deadline might be extended—or the two-year window might be shifted—including:
Most Georgia personal injury lawsuits are filed in the state's Superior Court system, which has the power to hear a wide variety of civil lawsuits in the state. There are 49 Superior Court Circuits in the Georgia court system, each serving one or more of the 149 counties in the state. (Find your local Superior Court in Georgia.)
Your Georgia personal injury lawsuit usually starts when you file with the court— and "serve" on the defendant:
Note: If your injuries were minor and you're only asking for less than $15,000 in personal injury damages from the at-fault party, you might consider filing your personal injury case in Magistrate (or small claims) Court. Learn more about filing a claim in Magistrate Court in Georgia (from Fulton County Magistrate Court).
If your injury was caused by the negligence of an employee or agency of the government (whether at the local or state level) in Georgia, you'll need to play by a different set of rules if you want to get compensation for your losses. You can't just go to court and file a lawsuit. The first step is usually filing a formal claim with the proper government agency, and giving them time to respond. Get the basics on injury claims against government entities.
In some cases, when you try to file a court case or insurance claim after suffering an injury, the other party will turn around and claim that you're actually at fault for the accident. Georgia's modified comparative fault rule reduces or eliminates damages if you're found to be partly or mostly at fault for your accident.
Let's say you're driving through an intersection when you're hit by a driver who ran a red light. You were traveling 10 miles per hour above the speed limit at the time. Your lawsuit makes it all the way to trial, and the jury decides that the other driver was 80 percent at fault for the accident, while you were 20 percent at fault.
Here, Georgia's modified comparative fault rule would reduce the amount of compensation you can receive by a share that's equal to the percent of fault assigned to you. Here, if your damages equal $20,000, you'll receive $16,000, or $20,000 minus the $4,000 that represents the 20 percent share of fault assigned to you.
Note that under Georgia's law, you won't be able to recover anything at all if your share of fault for the accident meets or exceeds 50 percent.
Technically, no. Georgia courts are only required to apply the comparative fault rule in injury cases where both parties are found to share the fault, and the case makes it all the way to trial. Don't be surprised, however, if the issue also comes up in injury settlement negotiations with an insurance adjuster. After all, insurance companies always negotiate their position with one eye on what might happen if the case goes to court.
In Georgia, a specific statute (Georgia Code section 51-2-7) makes anyone "who owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous animal" liable if they allow the animal to run free and injure someone.
The statute specifies that a "vicious" animal could simply be one that the law requires be kept on a leash, so mere violation of a leash law could give rise to liability in Georgia if someone is injured by the off-leash animal.
Dog owners in Georgia can also face liability if their negligence plays a part in their animal injuring someone. Learn more about dog owner liability for bites and other injuries.
Several states have some form of a cap on damages in personal injury cases. These laws limit the amount of compensation an injured person can receive for certain types of losses, or in certain kinds of cases.
In 2010, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the state's medical malpractice damages cap violates the right to a jury trial established in the state constitution, so there are currently no restrictions on how much compensation a medical malpractice plaintiff can receive in Georgia's courts (although judges may still be free to reduce excessive awards in certain cases).
Georgia does limit punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits where the plaintiff prevails after a trial. This cap is set at $250,000, and the law that sets it can be found at Code of Georgia section 51-12-5.1.
It's important to note that this cap does not apply to product liability cases in Georgia. So, for example, in a lawsuit over a harmful drug or cancer-causing chemical, the manufacturer can be ordered to pay punitive damages if the plaintiff prevails at trial, with no cap in place.
In a unique spin on how these kinds of damages are distributed, Georgia law mandates that 75 percent of every punitive damages award be paid not to the successful personal injury plaintiff, but into the state's treasury.
Keep in mind that punitive damages are only available in a small percentage of injury cases. They're meant to punish the wrongdoer for particularly dangerous or reprehensible behavior. Learn more about punitive damages and gross negligence in personal injury cases.
If you want to do a little legal research of your own on Georgia's negligence and personal injury laws, you'll find a lot of relevant information at Title 51 (Torts) of the Code of Georgia.
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For a full understanding of your best course of action after an injury in Georgia, get tips on finding the right personal injury lawyer for you and your case.