By: Jason Kamp
The longevity of certain crime-related tort claims seemingly increased four-fold.
Georgia tort claims are typically extinguished by the statute of limitations after two years, unless the limitations period is tolled. One source of tolling is O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99. It tolls the limitations period for tort claims brought by victims of crime for up to six years. The Court of Appeals of Georgia revisited the statute’s function in Harrison v. McAfee et al., 338 Ga. App. 393 (2016). In trying to fix one part of the statute, it appears the court inadvertently broke another.
The July 2016 Harrison case is most noteworthy for its holding, which broadened the tolling statute’s application to tort claims against parties who did not commit the crime in question. The court held that a bar patron shot during an armed robbery could now toll the statute of limitations even for his claims against the bar. While the holding’s impact was dramatic and wide reaching, so too is the implication of an overlooked fact of the case—the shooter had not been identified, arrested, or prosecuted.
Under the facts of Harrison, the existence of an actual criminal prosecution is no longer a necessary element for tolling under O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99. With the limiting language “until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final” plainly written in the statute, it is hard to imagine this is what the textualist Harrison court intended to do. Now, claims arising out of unprosecuted crimes last longer than prosecuted ones. Either way, the de facto result is that victims of unidentified criminals now have eight years to bring tort claims against non-criminal defendants. Six years from the tolling statute, plus the regular two. Allowing non-criminal defendants to get dragged into personal injury lawsuits 8 years after the fact is burdensome enough where there is an identified, prosecuted criminal to apportion fault. Allowing it where the criminal was never identified is even worse.
For more information, contact Jason Kamp at [email protected].