We often advise our readers on aspects of the law that might not be familiar to them, but could impact their lives. A recent opinion by the Georgia Supreme Court, published in December 2017, is instructive on the way timing can impact a personal injury case. As lawyers we deal with timing on a daily basis. Most people have heard of the phrase “statute of limitations.” Most lawsuits must be brought within a particular time frame from the time of injury or accident. That is why we often remind our readers that if you are injured by the fault of another person, in an accident for example, it is important to protect against the statute of limitations and when appropriate, file a legal action before the right to do so is lost.
Since these statutes of limitations laws impose time restrictions as to when a litigant must file a legal action, we pay close attention to cases in which these issues are resolved in our court system. In the recent Georgia Supreme Court case, a wrongful death lawsuit was brought against Grady Memorial Hospital Corporation by relatives of a woman who had passed away at the hospital. In Georgia, wrongful death cases can be brought by family members close to the deceased person, against a person or entity that they claim is responsible for the death of that person. These family members include a spouse, parent or child of the deceased person. Others include heirs or next of kin or others appointed by a probate court.
In the case brought against Grady Memorial, the trial court awarded Grady what is called summary judgment. This is a procedure that allows the trial court to review the case to determine whether it should continue. If there are no disputed facts, the court can issue a summary judgment. The trial court issued a summary judgment, but did not determined the amount plaintiffs should be awarded for having to formally serve process on the hospital until several months later.
When the plaintiffs asked the trial court to reconsider the summary judgment the trial court said it could not do so because the decision they made on summary judgment was final and the reconsideration motion was therefore not timely filed. But at the time they concluded this, the expenses had not yet been decided by the trial court. On appeal, the court of appeals agreed with the trial court and said the summary judgment was final and could not be reconsidered. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals saying that since the amount of the expenses were not determined when summary judgment was issued, it was actually not a “final decision” at the time the plaintiffs asked for reconsideration, the plaintiffs therefore had timely sought the court’s review of the summary judgment and had also timely filed their appeal.
Although somewhat technical, the lesson of this case is important. Timing is key and preserving rights is also key. We say this often, but cannot stress it enough. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident due to the fault of another person or entity, do not wait to act on your rights.
Scholle Law helps families coping with a wrongful death and has expertise in these cases. We appreciate the opportunity to serve our community by helping family members seek the help they need after the loss of a loved one.
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