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How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Case in Georgia?

Wrongful Death Lawyer

Wrongful death is any death caused by the wrongful act of another person. Wrongful acts include negligence and recklessness. Causing a death intentionally is also wrongful in the absence of self-defense or some other privilege that is recognized by Georgia law.

Most wrongful death lawsuits arise from traffic accidents. The families of pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycle riders, drivers, and passengers who are killed in car accidents can pursue wrongful death claims in Georgia courts.

Other wrongful death lawsuits arise out of construction accidents, dangerous products, nursing home neglect, and physical assaults, among other causes of death. Again, family members can seek compensation for those deaths.

If the lawsuit is not filed within the time specified by Georgia law, however, the family will lose its right to seek wrongful death compensation in court. The time limit depends on the circumstances.

Time for Filing a Georgia Wrongful Death Case

Section 9-3-33 of the Georgia Code states that the time limit for bringing a lawsuit based on injuries to the person is two years from the date on which the right to bring the lawsuit “accrues.” Georgia court decisions make clear that the right to sue for wrongful death usually “accrues” on the date of the death rather than the date of the accident.

There are some important exceptions to that rule. If the death was caused by a government employee, the time for filing a lawsuit may be shorter. Even if the filing deadline is two years, the right to recover compensation might be lost if a notice of claim is not filed with the government. Depending on whether the claim is filed against the city, county, or state government, it may be necessary to file a notice of claim within six months after the accident causing the death.

In some cases, family members will have additional time to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The two-year period in which a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed is “tolled” under certain circumstances. The time that passes while the two-year period is “tolled” does not count toward the filing deadline.

Tolling the Time to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit by the Families of Georgia Crime Victims

Section 9-3-99 of the Georgia Code gives crime victims additional time to bring lawsuits when injuries (including injuries causing death) result from criminal conduct. If the person responsible for the death could be charged with a crime, the two-year period for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against that person is tolled from the date of the criminal conduct until the date the criminal charge is resolved or until six years have passed, whichever is shorter.

The time for bringing a lawsuit is tolled if criminal conduct caused a death, whether or not a crime is actually charged. If no charge is filed, the two-year period starts to run six years after the date of death. If the person who caused the death is charged with a crime, the two-year period starts running when that person is convicted or when the charge is dismissed, although the period will not be tolled for more than six years. 

Tolling applies regardless of the crime that caused the death. The crime need not be a form of homicide. If the victim died because a driver violated a traffic law, the period for bringing the lawsuit will be tolled, even if the traffic crime is a misdemeanor.

Time for an Estate to File a Georgia Wrongful Death Claim

In some cases, the accident victim’s estate brings a wrongful death claim because no surviving family members are entitled by Georgia law to bring it. Estates can also bring an independent claim for the victim’s medical and burial expenses, and for the pain, the victim suffered before dying.

The same two-year time limit usually applies to estate claims. However, if the estate was not probated, the time for bringing the claim is tolled until probate commences, but not for more than five years.

If you are in a situation similar to any of these, a wrongful death lawyer in Georgia can provide legal guidance. Contact a law firm today.

Thanks to Butler Law Firm for their insight into personal injury cases and wrongful death cases.

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