Archive for November, 2009

Traffic Citation is a “Crime” that Tolls Limitations Period for Personal Injury Action

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently held that a traffic citation can constitute a criminal proceeding under a statute that tolls the limitation period for filing personal injury actions.  Beneke v. Parker, 2009 WL 3062640 (Ga. Sept. 28, 2009).

On April 27, 2005, Patricia Parker was injured when the car in which she was a passenger was struck by a vehicle driven by Alan Beneke, who received a traffic citation for following too closely.  When Parker filed a personal injury action against Beneke on May 11, 2007, Beneke argued that the two-year statute of limitations had expired.  However, the trial court found that the statute had not begun to run until Beneke posted a cash bond disposing of his citation on May 19, 2005.  In denying summary judgment to Beneke, the court relied on O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99, which provides that:

The 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.

The Georgia 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 O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99 into play.  The Court held that a “crime” within the context of the particular statute must be a crime that satisfies the definition set forth in O.C.G.A. § 16-2-1(a), i.e., one that involves criminal intent or criminal negligence.

In reversing the court of appeals, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that a violation of the Uniform Rules of the Road, such as following too closely, is a misdemeanor that satisfies the statutory definition of a crime.  Therefore, the word “crime” in O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99 encompassed traffic citations, and the two-year statute of limitations had not begun to run until Beneke disposed of his citation on May 19, 2005.  As the Court acknowledged, this case will have a significant impact on personal injury actions arising out of automobile accidents in situations where a traffic citation is issued.

For more information, please contact Timothy Buckley III, Esq. at (404) 633-9230.

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