COVID-19, Georgia’s Judicial Emergency, Court Closures, and How it Impacts Your Personal Injury Case

On March 14, 2020, in response to Covid-19, the Honorable Harold D. Melton, Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, issued an Order Declaring Statewide Judicial Emergency. The Honorable Harold D. Melton has since extended this order twice: the first on April 6 (which extended the Judicial Emergency to May 13), and the most recent extension occurred on May 11, 2020 (which now is set to expire on June 12, 2020). This Judicial Emergency has and will continue to have profound implications on individuals with Personal Injury lawsuits.

While this article focuses on how this Judicial Emergency impacts personal injury claims, the Judicial Emergency lists out a number of different areas affected, and thus, we strongly urge you to seek out legal counsel if you have any type of legal matter; this Judicial Emergency can have a profound impact on your lawsuit and the timeframe for which it may come to a conclusion.

Prohibition on All Jury Trial Proceedings
First and foremost, the Judicial Emergency suspends ALL civil trials. This means that any personal injury case waiting for a jury trial will not be heard until June 15th, 2020 at the absolute earliest. Practically speaking, however, we may have to wait many months before the ban on jury trials gets lifted.

Health guidelines provided by the CDC and the Georgia Department of Public Health stress the importance of social distancing, and have warned us that this requirement may remain in place for some time. Should social distancing guidelines remain in place, then we should anticipate jury trials to remain banned until a suitable solution can be found. For anyone who has been on a jury or even been summoned for jury duty, then you can understand why the prohibition would remain in effect. Jury trials require a number of people to remain in close confinement for a significant amount of time. Additionally, many courtrooms were not designed (obviously) with social distancing requirements making it near impossible to conform to these guidelines.

Therefore, attorneys and personal injury clients need to have candid conversations about how to best proceed with the understanding that it may take many months for their cases to be called for a jury trial.

Tolling of the Statute of Limitations
In Georgia, as a general rule of thumb, you have two (2) years from the date of your accident/collision to file a lawsuit or you lose the right forever to bring a claim against the defendant driver and the insurance company. Caveats, of course, exists to this law, but by and large, this two year statute applies. This Judicial Emergency issued by the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court tolls that statute. By tolling the Statute of Limitations, this means the time frame for filing a lawsuit gets delayed.

Though the original language from the The Order caused different interpretations, the Georgia Supreme Court further clarified the tolling of the Statute of Limitations. For any Statute of Limitations that began to run prior to the Judicial Emergency issued on March 14, the amount of time remaining on the Statute will remain the same once the Judicial Emergency gets lifted. For example, if your Statute of Limitations was supposed to run on June 14, 2020 (i.e. your Statute had 3 months left prior to issuing the Judicial Emergency), then you will have 3 months left on your Statute once the Judicial Emergency is lifted. Therefore, if the Chief Justice lifts the Judicial Emergency on June 14, then you would have until September 14 to file suit.

Additionally, if your accident/injury occurred during the Judicial Emergency, then your two (2) year Statute of Limitation will not begin to run until the Judicial Emergency is lifted. Again, for example, if your collision occurred on March 15, 2020 and the Judicial Emergency gets lifted on June 14, 2020, then your Statute of Limitations will run on June 14, 2022, and not March 15, 2022.

**As always, future lawsuits and court rulings could adjust or re-interpret the Court’s language in this Judicial Emergency changing the examples provided above. As such, it remains extremely important to seek out experienced legal counsel, like the team here at The Larrison Law Firm, to guide you through your personal injury claim.

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