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Georgia Court of Appeals Decision Extends Period of Time for Crime Victims to File Personal Injury Claims

Georgia law holds property owners responsible for keeping safe premises for tenants and their invited guests. A property owner may be liable for criminal acts that take place on their premises if he or she has reason to anticipate criminal activity but fails to take reasonable steps to prevent it.

In Harrison v. McAfee, a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision, a masked man burst into a bar, shot, and severely injured an innocent patron. More than two years after the incident, the patron brought a personal injury action against the owners of the bar for their failure to maintain safe premises.

Typically, crime victims with personal injury claims must file suit within two years from when the incident occurred. The Harrison Court, however, effectively lengthened this period of time. According to the Court, the two-year period may be tolled for actions by crime victims under OCGA § 9-3-99. The statute reads:

The running of the period of limitations with respect to any cause of action in tort that may be brought by the victim of an alleged crime which arises out of the facts and circumstances relating to the commission of such alleged crime committed in this state shall be tolled from the date of the commission of the alleged crime or the act giving rise to such action in tort until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated, provided that such time does not exceed six years…..

In interpreting the statute, the Court explained that it [the statute] “applies to any cause of action in tort, without limitation, so long as that cause of action is brought by a crime victim and arises out of the facts and circumstances relating to the commission of such alleged crime.” Moreover, the Court held “that the statute applies regardless of whether the defendant in the case has been accused of committing the crime from which the cause of action arises.”

Based on this ruling, Georgia Code § 9-3-99 is no longer limited to claims against the alleged perpetrator and applies to claims against any defendant as long as the claim arises out of the criminal act that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. This ruling lengthens the period of time in which crime victims can seek justice against third parties responsible for their injuries.