Before deciding that a statute of limitations has been missed, remember that it may be tolled by a number of exceptions depending on the facts of the case. One such exception is tolling for a tort claim arising from a crime.
O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99 provides that the statute of limitations applicable to a tort claim arising out of the facts and circumstances related to the commission of a crime is tolled from “the date of the commission of the alleged crime or the act giving rise to such action in tort until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated, provided that such time does not exceed six years.” It is immaterial whether the defendant is the individual accused of the crime that is being prosecuted or investigated. See, Harrison v. McAfee, 338 Ga. App. 393 (2016). In Harrison, the Court of Appeals broadly construed the plain language of O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99 to conclude that “any cause of action in tort” applies “without limitation, so long as that cause of action is brought by a crime victim and arises out of the facts and circumstances relating to the commission of such alleged crime.” Id. at 398. There, the plaintiff’s statute of limitations for a claim against bar owners was tolled for injuries sustained as a result of another patron shooting plaintiff. Id.
Tolling for pending criminal prosecutions also applies in many road wreck cases because it applies to tort claims arising from violations of Georgia’s Uniform Rules of the Road. See, Williams v. Durden, 347 Ga. App. 363 (2018). As a result, something as minor as a traffic offense can toll the statute of limitations. The prosecution of these offenses will terminate, and thus the statute of limitations commence to run, when the defendant pays the traffic citation or the court disposes of the case. See, McGhee v. Jones, 287 Ga. App. 345 (2007); Forbes v. Smith, 338 Ga. App. 546 (2016).
Despite the broad construction of this statute, like most of the law, there are exceptions. One exception is the statute’s applicability to wrongful death claims, specifically survivor actions. The Court of Appeals again turned to the plain language of the statute in Hicks v. Universal Health Services, Inc., 874 S.E.2d 877 (2022) to find that “victim” means the deceased individual in the context of wrongful death claims. As a result, survivor actions do not obtain the benefit of tolling for pending criminal prosecutions because the cause of action belongs to the survivors, not the “victim” within the meaning of the statute. Id. at 884.
Another exception is the statute’s applicability to ante litem notices to government entities. In Dep’t of Public Safety v. Ragsdale, 357 Ga. App. 739 (2020), the plaintiff’s claim arose from a motor vehicle collision that occurred as a result of a police chase to apprehend a fleeing criminal. Included in the plaintiff’s claims was a claim against the Georgia Department of Transportation. However, the plaintiff failed to provide ante litem notice to the state the within twelve months as required by O.C.G.A. § 50-21-26(a)(1). The Supreme Court ultimately held that ante litem notice is a precondition to filing a tort claim against the state, and, as a result, not a statute of limitations to which O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99 will apply. See, Dep’t of Public Safety v. Ragsdale, 308 Ga. 210 (2020).
As you can see, pending criminal prosecutions can serve a great benefit to allow a plaintiff more time to pursue a tort claim arising from a crime. However, it is critical to understand when this tolling does not apply to a tort claim in order to avoid missing the statute of limitations and committing malpractice.