There is little more challenging than losing a loved one. When coping with such a loss–and the sometimes profound way it will change your life–the last thing you want to think about is a lawsuit. But any family member who has lost a loved one due to the negligent or intentional acts of another should understand that there is a time limit, known as the statute of limitations, for filing such a legal claim. Those who delay too long may lose their right to be compensated for their losses.
What is the Statute of Limitations?
The term “statute of limitations” refers to the legal rules that define when you can bring a lawsuit against someone. After an event occurs (e.g., the event that may lead to a lawsuit), a potential litigant has a certain period of time to file the lawsuit. If the litigant fails to file the lawsuit within the period time, he or she may be permanently barred from pursuing any claim.
Generally, actions for injuries to the person shall be brought within 2 years after the right of action accrues, except for injuries to the reputation, which shall be brought within one year after the right of action accrues, and except for actions for injuries to the person involving loss of consortium, which shall be brought within four years after the right of action accrues. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33.
There are times when a statute of limitations may be tolled (postponed or suspended) thus allowing the party additional time to file the claim. For example, the period of limitation may be postponed before starting to run, or suspended after once having started, under the following circumstances:
personal disabilities of the plaintiff (i.e. minors and legally incompetent persons);
absence of defendant from the state;
fraud of the defendant;
discontinuance or dismissal; or
pending criminal prosecution of the defendant.
Because the time period for which you may bring a wrongful death action depends on the circumstances of your case, it is essential that you speak with an experienced Atlanta wrongful death lawyer right away. The wrongful death attorneys at Goldstein and Hayes, P.C., have years of experience helping people navigate the Georgia legal system following the death of their loved one.
The Purpose of a Time Period
If a potential litigant fails to file a claim within the statute of limitations period, he or she will be barred from ever filing a claim regarding the matter, even if the potential litigant has been seriously injured. This may seem like a harsh rule. Its purpose, however, is to ensure that parties in a lawsuit have access to necessary evidence. If a person waited many years or decades to file a lawsuit, parties in the case may have a difficult time locating witnesses, examining accident scenes, and otherwise gathering necessary evidence. The time period further grants parties a certain finality that after a certain period of time they no longer need to worry about facing a lawsuit.
The Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Action
In Georgia, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death action is typically two years. This means that if your loved one has died as a result of the negligent or intentional actions of another, you have just two years from the time of that death to file a lawsuit or you may lose your right to gain compensation.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, there may be some exceptions to this rule. In some instances, you may have two years from the time that you discovered the cause of death (as opposed to two years from the time that your loved one died). For example, if your loved one’s death was categorized as an accident, but later evidence determined that the death was due to the negligence of another, you may have two years from that discovery to file your claim.