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Does a Criminal Prosecution Extend the Time to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Georgia?


You only have a limited amount of time to bring a personal injury lawsuit in Georgia. For most cases this period is 2 years from the date when the injury occurred. For example, if you are injured in a car accident that took place on February 1, 2022, you would have until February 1, 2024, to sue the negligent driver.

But as with any rule, there are exceptions. Georgia law suspends or “tolls” the 2-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims when there is a related criminal proceeding. So let’s say you were hit by a drunk driver. The state will probably initiate a criminal prosecution. While that criminal case is pending, the 2-year clock for you to file a personal injury lawsuit is effectively stopped. From a public policy standpoint, this is to ensure the defendant’s criminal trial is not unduly prejudiced by your potential civil lawsuit.

Georgia’s tolling provision states that the statute of limitations may only be suspended for up to 6 years or “until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated,” whichever occurs first. The Georgia Court of Appeals has further clarified that the tolling provision may also cover lawsuits against a third party arising from a criminal act. For instance, if you are the victim of a crime that occurs in a restaurant or store, you could wait until a criminal case against the perpetrator is resolved before filing a premises liability lawsuit.

Georgia Appeals Court Rejects Novel Argument for Expanding Tolling Rule

That said, there are limits in how far the courts are willing to go when suspending the regular 2-year deadline in personal injury cases. The Court of Appeals recently addressed such a case. In Toliver v. Dawson, two vehicles collided at an intersection. This occurred in February 2020. The plaintiff sued the other driver (the defendant) in August 2022. The plaintiff alleged the defendant’s distracted driving caused the accident.

You will notice the plaintiff filed her lawsuit more than 2 years after the accident. Now, the Georgia courts did toll the statute of limitations for a time during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but even taking that into account, the plaintiff’s lawsuit was still untimely. She nevertheless claimed her lawsuit was timely due to the tolling for pending criminal prosecutions.

The problem, the Court of Appeals explained, was that the plaintiff was not a crime victim. Rather, the police issued her a traffic citation in connection with the accident. A traffic violation is a misdemeanor violation under Georgia law. So if there was a pending traffic ticket against the defendant, that would toll the statute of limitations. But that did not apply to a traffic ticket against the plaintiff.

Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today

Time is always of the essence when it comes to a personal injury lawsuit. That is why you should never delay in seeking legal advice from a qualified Cobb County personal injury attorney. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek.


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