Archive for June, 2010

Crime Does Not Toll Limitations Period for Serving Ante Litem Notice on County

Under Georgia law, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit is two years.  However, in order to bring an action against a county, all claims must be “presented” within one year after they accrue or become payable.  Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99, the commission of an alleged crime tolls the limitations period for a tort action from the date of the crime or the act giving rise to the tort action until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated.  The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently held that this tolling provision did not apply in a suit where the county defendants were not prosecuted for any crime arising out of the incident.  Columbia County v. Branton, 2010 WL 1999074 (Ga.App. May 20, 2010).

 On June 4, 2006, Margaret Branton was killed in an automobile collision that occurred when Tiara Smith, a shoplifter who was fleeing the scene of her crime, sped through a red light and collided with the car in which Mrs. Branton was a passenger.  Before the accident, Kenny Curtis, a Columbia County Sheriff’s deputy, saw Smith’s vehicle speed by him as he was riding his motorcycle in the opposite direction.  Deputy Curtis activated his lights and siren, turned around, and followed Smith.  By the time he caught up to Smith, the collision had already occurred. 

 On August 9, 2006, Smith was indicted for felony murder, which was based on an attempt to elude Deputy Curtis.  On September 21, 2007, Smith pleaded guilty to the charges.  On January 14, 2008, Margaret Branton’s husband, John Branton, sent an ante litem notice to Columbia County.  On February 5, 2008, Branton filed suit against Columbia County and the Sheriff.  Branton later dismissed the suit and re-filed the action on June 6, 2008, adding Smith as a co-defendant.  The county defendants moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the ante litem notice was not served within one year of the accrual of the claim.  Following a hearing, the trial court found that the limitations period for serving the ante litem notice had been tolled by Smith’s crime, and the county defendants appealed.

The Court of Appeals of Georgia disagreed with the trial court’s application of O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99, holding that the statute tolls the limitations period while the prosecution of the defendant is pending.  Because the county defendants were not prosecuted for any crime arising out of the collision and were not criminal co-defendants, their actions could not be said to arise “out of the facts and circumstances relating to the commission of such alleged crime.”  Therefore, Smith’s crime did not toll the limitations period for filing the ante litem notice, rendering Branton’s action time-barred.

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

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