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Statute of Limitations Extended In Some Georgia Auto Accident Cases

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A recent Georgia Supreme Court case has tolled the state’s statute of limitations for Georgia car accident cases. In Beneke v. Parker, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations will be tolled from the date of the accident until the traffic citation is resolved.

Before this case, the 2 year Georgia statute of limitations began to run from the date the car accident occured. If you failed to file or settle your injury claim within that 2 year period you were forever barred from asserting it. This decision, however now tolls (extends) the statute of limitations and represents a continued effort to both clarify the law and protect innocent Georgia drivers that have been hurt through not fdault of their own.

In Beneke v. Parker, Parker was hit from behind and overturned when Beneke hit her car. In this Georgia car accident, Beneke was cited for following too closely behind Parker’s car. Parker filed a Georgia personal injury lawsuit against Beneke, but filed it after the two years statute of limitations. Initially, the trial court did grant Beneke’s motion for summary judgment (motion to dismiss her case) based on the expiration of the two years statute but it was subsequently denied on a motion for reconsideration. The court found that Parker’s Georgia injury lawsuit was timely-filed because the statute of limitations was tolled until Beneke resolved the traffic citation by posting a cash bond to dispose of the citation.

After the case reached the Supreme Court, they ruled that the two years statute of limitations is extended by the same amount of time that passes between the car accident and the resolution of the ticket.

Here is the text from the decision:

In the Supreme Court of Georgia

Decided: September 28, 2009

S08G2078. BENEKE v. PARKER et al.

S08G2082. PARKER et al. v. BENEKE.

HUNSTEIN, Chief Justice.

On April 27, 2005, Patricia Parker was injured when the car in which she

was a passenger was struck from the rear and overturned by a vehicle driven by

Alan Beneke; Beneke was cited for following too closely. See OCGA § 40-6-

49. Parker filed a personal injury action against Beneke on May 11, 2007. The

trial court initially granted Beneke’s motion for summary judgment based on the

expiration of the two-year statute of limitation, see OCGA § 9-3-33, but on

motion for reconsideration vacated its order and denied summary judgment. In

finding that the complaint was timely-filed because the statute of limitation had

been tolled until Beneke posted a cash bond disposing of the traffic citation on

May 19, 2005, the trial court relied on OCGA § 9-3-99, which provides that

[t]he running of the period of limitations with respect to any cause of

action in tort that may be brought by the victim of an alleged crime which

arises out of the facts and circumstances relating to the commission of

such alleged crime committed in this state shall be 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.

In Beneke v. Parker, 293 Ga. App. 186 (667 SE2d 97) (2008), the Court of

Appeals affirmed the denial of summary judgment, but vacated the portion of

the trial court’s order ruling that Beneke had committed a “crime” as a matter

of law so as to bring OCGA § 9-3-99 into play, holding that this question must

be resolved by a jury. See Beneke, supra at 189-190 (1). We granted certiorari

to consider whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that a “crime” within

the context of OCGA § 9-3-99 must be a “crime” that satisfies the definition set

forth in OCGA § 16-2-1 (a), i.e., one that involves criminal intent or criminal 1

negligence. For the reasons that follow, we hold that it did so err.

[T]he fundamental rules of statutory construction . . . require us to

construe a statute according to its terms, to give words their plain and

ordinary meaning, and to avoid a construction that makes some language

mere surplusage. [Cits.] At the same time, we must seek to effectuate the

intent of the legislature. [Cit.] Slakman v. Continental Casualty Co., 277 Ga. 189, 191 (587 SE2d 24) (2003). A violation of one of the Uniform Rules of the Road, such as the rule that a OCGA § 16-2-1 (a) provides that “[a] ‘crime’ is a violation of a statute of this 1 state in which there is a joint operation of an act or omission to act and intention or

criminal negligence.” 2 driver must not follow another vehicle too closely, is a misdemeanor, OCGA § 40-6-1 (a), and a misdemeanor is “any crime other than a felony.” (Emphasis supplied.) OCGA § 16-1-3 (9). Thus, the plain language of OCGA § 9-3-99 would encompass a violation of a Uniform Rule of the Road. To impose a more

stringent definition of “crime” within the context of the statute would render

superfluous its language that the statute of limitation is tolled from the date of

the alleged crime “or the act giving rise to such action in tort” until the

prosecution or other termination of such crime “or act.” The Court of Appeals properly affirmed the denial of summary judgment to Beneke. However, no factual determination need be made as to whether Beneke acted with criminal intent or criminal negligence, i.e., whether his violation of OCGA § 40-6-49 constituted a crime as defined in OCGA § 16-2-1 (a), in order to apply OCGA § 9-3-99 here. We thus reverse the portion of the

Court of Appeals opinion holding otherwise. Like the Court of Appeals, we

recognize that our holding in this case will have a significant impact on personal

injury actions arising out of vehicle accidents by tolling the statute of limitation

in those situations where a traffic citation is issued. See Beneke, supra, 293 Ga.

App. at 191. Nonetheless, we are constrained by the language of the statute to

3 reach this result. If the Legislature had intended to limit the application of

OCGA § 9-3-99 to tort actions arising from only certain types of crimes, e.g.,

felonies or specific intent crimes, it certainly could have done so. It did not, and

any undesirable result is a matter properly addressed by the General Assembly

rather than the courts.

Judgment affirmed in part and reversed in part. All the Justices concur.