Covid Tolling of Statute of Limitations Is Airtight, but you Need to Consult Your Calendar

As many folks know, the Georgia Supreme Court entered an Order tolling (freezing) the running of the statute of limitations in the early months of Covid because the clerks and courts were simply closed and nothing could be done. While the statute of limitations in personal injury cases typically runs after two years, this placed a 122 day freeze period in place when the calendar would not run out for cases with statutes stopwatch-300x297that included those dates. That would include any crash occurring before March 14, 2020 that had a 2 year statute set to expire before July 14, 2020.

For example:

If a crash occurred on April 15, 2020, then the plaintiff would have until July 13, 2022 to file their lawsuit. They get the two years and it is as though the dates from April 15-July 13 never happened.

The tolling was explained in detail by the Supreme Court stating  “[t]he 122 days between March 14 and July 14, 2020, or any portion of that period in which a statute of limitation would have run, shall be excluded from the calculation of that statute of limitation.” Some defense firms have encouraged the filing of Motions to Dismiss cases for missing the 2 year deadline by arguing a myriad of readings of the statute but, the Courts explanation below seems clear:

“Questions have arisen about how the tolling provision in the Chief Justice’s
Order of March 14, 2020, Declaring Statewide Judicial Emergency applies
to statutes of limitation. Simply put, the tolling of a statute of limitation
suspends the running of the period of limitation, but it does not reset the
period of limitation. If the period of limitation for a particular cause of action
commenced prior to March 14, 2020—that is, if the “clock” had started to
run before the entry of the Chief Justice’s order—the running of the period
of limitation was suspended on March 14, and the running of the period will
resume when the tolling provision of the March 14 declaration has expired
or is otherwise terminated. If the event that triggers the running of a period
of limitation occurred on or after March 14—that is, if the “clock” had not
started to run before a statewide judicial emergency was declared—the
period of limitation will not begin to run until the tolling provision of the
March 14 declaration has expired or is otherwise terminated. In either
circumstance, whatever time remained in the period of limitation as of
March 14 will still remain when the tolling provision of the March 14
declaration has expired or is otherwise terminated.”

Guidance on Tolling Statutes of Limitation Under the Chief Justice’s Order
Declaring Statewide Judicial Emergency, April 6, 2020.

The sole remaining area where a lawyer needs to be cautious right now is in calculating the statute of limitations on cases where the incident actually happened during or after the tolling period; from March 14, 2022 to July 14, 2022. You do not get to just tack on the entire 122 days to the statute just because it happened after the order. For example:

Crash happens August 15, 2020. There is NO TOLLING.

Crash happens July 1, 2022, There is a 13 day tolling window and that is it. Be careful out there.

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