What does tolling the statute of limitations mean?

The statute of limitations refers to the length of time an injured plaintiff has to take legal action against a defendant. There are different limitations for different types of cases, including circumstances where tolling can occur to increase the length of time you have to file a claim.

Understanding Georgia’s Statute of Limitations

Georgia’s statute of limitations laws are intended to ensure that litigation proceeds in a timely fashion. They allow cases to proceed while evidence is still readily available and prevent defendants from worrying about someone taking legal action decades after an event occurred.

Statute of limitations laws for Georgia specify these time limits to start a lawsuit:

  • General personal injury claims: two years.
  • Loss of consortium: four years after the right of action accrued.
  • Property damage: four years.
  • Wrongful death: two years.
  • Product liability: two years.

Extending Deadlines by Tolling the Statute of Limitations

In most cases, the statute of limitations is non-negotiable. If you miss the deadline to file, you can’t take legal action. However, under certain circumstances, the statute of limitations can be tolled. Essentially, this means that the clock has been temporarily stopped to allow extra time for taking action.

The most common reasons for tolling the statute of limitations are as follows.

  • The victim is an injured child. When the victim is a child and the case does not involve medical malpractice, the statute of limitations begins to run when he turns 18.
     
  • The victim was not mentally competent at the time the injury occurred. When an injured person is considered mentally ill or otherwise not legally competent, the statute of limitations doesn’t begin until after his disability is removed.
     
  • The incident of wrongful conduct involves the commission of a crime. If you’re injured in an accident involving someone who committed a crime, the two-year statute of limitations is tolled for the time between when the offense is committed and when the criminal case is resolved, provided that such time does not exceed six years. For example, if you receive injuries from an accident involving a drunk driver, the statute of limitations is extended by the amount of time it takes for his DUI charge to be resolved.
     
  • There was no opportunity for reasonable discovery. The statute of limitations may be extended if there was no way for an injury or medical condition to have been reasonably discovered within the specific timeframe.
     
  • The defendant has declared bankruptcy. The “automatic stay” that is granted as the result of filing bankruptcy generally tolls the statute of limitations until the bankruptcy is resolved or the stay is lifted.
     
  • The defendant has committed fraud. When the defendant has fraudulently deterred the plaintiff from bringing legal action, the period of limitations runs only from the time of the plaintiff’s discovery of the fraud.

Tolling the statute of limitations does not affect a case in terms of your burden of proof or your eligibility for compensation. It only affects how much time you have to bring legal action against the defendant.

Seeking Legal Assistance

If you’ve suffered damages due to another party’s negligence, it’s in your best interests to seek legal representation as soon as possible. When you begin the process of filing a claim immediately after the incident, it’s easier to locate the evidence you need to build a strong case. In fact, some attorneys may refuse to accept a case if the statute of limitations deadline is rapidly approaching, due to the length of time it takes to properly prepare for legal action.

However, don’t assume that you are entirely out of luck if it appears that the statute of limitations for your case has passed. In many cases, it’s possible to bring multiple causes of action from a single occurrence of wrongful conduct. This means that you may still have options even if it appears that the statute of limitations for your case has run out.

The experienced personal injury attorneys at Rechtman & Spevak can help interpret the statute of limitations, assess the value of your case, locate relevant evidence, and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial case review.