When you lose someone important to you, such as a spouse, parent, child, or sibling, it may take some time before you can start to think about a lawsuit. Waiting too long, however, can result in losing your right to file altogether. Georgia, like all states, enforces statutes of limitations on personal injury and wrongful death claims. This means you have a strict deadline by which you must bring your case. Missing your time limit will generally mean forfeiting your right to any wrongful death damages. Learn your statute of limitations with help from an attorney.
Do You Have a Wrongful Death Case?
Before you look at the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim, find out if you have a case to begin with. Wrongful death in Georgia is the death of a person from the negligence, recklessness, intentional acts, or crimes of another person. In general, if your deceased loved one would have had the right to file a personal injury claim had he/she survived the accident, surviving family members will have the right to file a wrongful death action. You must be one of the following parties to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Georgia:
- Surviving spouse
- Surviving child/children (minor or adult)
- Surviving parents
- Personal representative (administrator) of the decedent’s estate
Once you believe you have the elements of a wrongful death claim, explore the rules for filing. The most important rule to keep in mind is the statute of limitations. The Georgia courts strictly enforce deadlines for filing, and most likely will not hear a case someone files after the statute of limitations has passed. Your deadline for filing may depend on the circumstances of your case. The courts will only make exceptions in rare situations. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible after the death of a loved one to make sure you meet the requirements.
How Long Do You Have to File?
In Georgia, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of death. If your loved one’s accident occurred days or weeks before the date of death, the “clock” won’t start ticking until the day your loved one passed away. From this date, you have 24 months to file your wrongful death lawsuit with the county civil courts. You will almost always lose your right to file a lawsuit if you fail to file within the two-year time limit.
Note that the two-year limit is applicable in most cases. Some may have shorter deadlines while others will be longer. It’s very important to discuss your specific situation with a lawyer right away to find out your exact time limit for filing. Otherwise, you risk missing this critical requirement. A wrongful death lawsuit against a government entity, for example, has a one-year deadline. You will only have 12 months from the date of your loved one’s death to bring a wrongful death action against a government employee, agency, or entity in Georgia.
The courts may agree to extend (“toll”) the statute of limitations in a case in some circumstances. The most common is if your loved one’s death came about from someone else’s criminal actions. If the city is currently prosecuting a criminal case against the perpetrator, the civil courts may agree to toll the deadline until the conclusion of said case. Your two-year deadline will then begin on the date the criminal case ends. Furthermore, if your loved one’s estate does not go through probate, you will have an additional five years to file your case.
Talk to a Gwinnett County Personal Injury Attorney
A wrongful death lawyer is the only one who can give you the exact statute of limitations for your case. You may qualify for an extension or need to start working on your filing documents right away. Contact a Georgia attorney as soon as possible for your best chances of recovery.