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By: Jake Daly
Every state has statutes or rules governing the time within which various types of claims must be filed. In Georgia, the general rule is that a personal injury claim must be brought within 2 years of the date the injury occurred. Is this an immutable rule, or can it be changed by contract? Thanks to a recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals, we know that a statutory limitations period may be shortened by a provision in a residential lease and that a contractual limitations period of 1 year is valid and enforceable.
The plaintiff in Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC allegedly tripped and fell on a crumbling portion of a curb in the parking lot of the apartment complex where she lived. The incident occurred on March 3, 2014, and the plaintiff filed the lawsuit on March 3, 2016. Under Georgia’s statute of limitations for personal injuries, the lawsuit would have been timely filed. However, the lease contained a provision that required any lawsuit against the owner and/or manager to be filed within 1 year of the occurrence giving rise to the claim. Based on this contractual limitations provision, the trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant, which was represented by Sun Choy and Jake Daly of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP.
The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision on May 1, 2018. The plaintiff’s sole argument on appeal was that a contractual limitations provision should not apply to claims that do not arise out of the contract. Because the plaintiff’s claim was based on Georgia’s premises liability statute, not the lease, she contended that her claim was subject to the statutory limitations period of two years. The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the absence of a relationship between the lease and the claim was irrelevant because the contractual limitations provision in the lease applied by its own terms to “any legal action.” There being no statute or public policy prohibiting the shortening of a statutory limitations provision in a contract, the Court of Appeals concluded that the contractual limitations provision in the lease was valid and enforceable and that, therefore, the plaintiff’s claim was time-barred.
We know from this decision that a contractual limitations provision of 1 year is valid and enforceable, but the Court of Appeals did not address the limit of how short such a provision can be. However, we believe that a contractual limitations provision of 6 months could be valid and enforceable because that is the statutory deadline in Georgia for providing ante litem notice of a claim for money damages to a municipality. Regardless of where the limit will be drawn by future cases, owners and managers of residential rental property should consider including in their leases a contractual limitations provision of no longer than 1 year. For assistance with drafting such a provision that will withstand scrutiny by the courts, as well as other provisions that may help limit liability, please contact Jake Daly at [email protected] or (770) 818-1431.