Last month the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia rendered a highly relevant opinion concerning a personal injury claim. The opinion in S.G. v. TJX Companies, Inc., et al., (M.D. Ga 2017) is instructive because in it the court interpreted how the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure section regarding amended complaints filed after the statute of limitations has run applies, with regard to Georgia’s statute of limitations, as well as rules relating to amending back for personal injury cases.
The complaint arose out of an incident where the plaintiff alleged that she slipped and fell inside of a retail store in Columbus Georgia in June of 2014. The plaintiff brought a personal injury action against the defendant store’s parent corporation in May of 2016. The plaintiff then filed an amended complaint attempting to add an additional defendant corporation in October of 2016. The defendant corporation filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the plaintiff’s claim was untimely. According to the court, the plaintiff failed to respond to the motion to dismiss.
The issue at hand was that the plaintiff was attempting to add an additional defendant after the relevant statute of limitations had passed. Under Georgia law, personal injury actions must be brought within two years after the time of the incident. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33 (2010). Here, the plaintiff had until two years after her alleged slip and fall to file her complaint. She did file her original complaint before the relevant time period had passed. However, her original complaint had only named the initial defendant parent corporation, and did not include the subsequent corporation. The issue, then, was whether the plaintiff was entitled to any legal exception allowing her to add in the second defendant.
As the case was filed in federal court, the court first turned to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1)(A), determining that the court should look to Georgia law in order to determine whether the plaintiff’s amendment may relate back to her initial complaint. In doing so, it looked to O.C.G.A. § 9-11-15(c), Georgia’s rule regarding relation back. It states that an amended complaint adding a new defendant can relate back to the initial date if it (1) arises out of the same incident set forth or attempted to be set forth in the initial complaint and the subsequent defendant within the state of limitations (a) received notice of the complaint or (b) knew or should have known that but for a mistake, the defendant would have been named as a defendant in the original complaint.
The court found that the plaintiff did not allege in her amended complaint that the second defendant received notice of the action, or that it knew or should have known that the action would be brought against it. It also took notice of the plaintiff’s apparent failure to respond to the motion to dismiss, which could potentially have addressed the subsequent defendant’s timeliness defense.
The court further found that as the plaintiff did not provide notice to the second defendant within 90 days after her initial complaint (she did not amend her complaint until some 160 days after the initial filing). Citing to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(B)-(C), her amended complaint could not relate back under federal law either.
Thus, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s amended complaint did not relate back to her initial filing, and held that the amended complaint attempting to add a new defendant was untimely and therefore the defendant’s motion to dismiss was granted.
This case illustrates the incredible importance of being represented by an attorney who is aware of the relevant statute of limitations and, generally speaking, the need to file personal injury cases within a timely manner. In many cases, particularly as relating to personal injury, there is an incredible amount of evidence gathering that may need to be done. If you have been involved in an accident or have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, the premises liability attorneys at the Simon Law Firm can help advise you in regards to what steps to take moving forward. Our Atlanta personal injury law firm offers free initial consultations. You can reach us by calling 404-259-7635 or through this website.
Georgia Court of Appeals Reverses in Mold Premises Liability Case Between Tenant and Landlord, Atlanta Injury Attorney Blog, published April 20, 2016
Rainy Day Slip and Fall Cases are Still the Worst, Atlanta Injury Attorney Blog, published January 27, 2016