Important Victim’s Rights Statute Under Review

The Georgia Court of Appeals has recently accepted an Application for Interlocutory Review of a very important victim’s rights statute in this state. Here we refer to a case in which we represent the Plaintiff involving a tolling provision for the statute of limitations for victims of crime. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99 was enacted as part of the Crime Victims Restitution Act of 2005 and will now be interpreted by the Court of Appals after a ruling in this appeal. Its tolling provision reads as follows:
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 alleged crime or the act giving rise to such action and tort until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated, provided that such time does not exceed six (6) years. (Emphasis Supplied.)
As is apparent from a review of the broad language employed by the Georgia Legislature, this statute is very important for victims of crime. Many victims of crime do not know that they have civil claims against third parties. If someone is raped in a motel, they may not be able to independently recover that a rapist was formerly an employee of the motel and had been negligently left with master keys to their motel rooms. A victim of an independent trucker who is driving under the influence of drugs may not know that the trucker was operating under an oral lease agreement with a third party. This might be very important if the independent trucker had no insurance and the statutory employer/lessor had good insurance. A victim of a drunk driver may not discover until after two years that the drunk was provided far too much alcohol by a bar that knew that he would be driving in violation of the Dramshop Act. In short, there are many real life scenarios where an innocent crime victim may not even initially know whether they have viable third party claim and may not be able to discover the existence of such a claim until they are able to get access to the criminal investigative file concerning their case, something that may not occur for over 2 years. Moreover, in many cases, criminal perpetrators are not even apprehended for over 2 years and even if they are apprehended in a timely manner, they may assert their Fifth Amendment privilege and therefore withhold from the victim crucial information concerning the possible involvement of third parties.
The case that is on appeal before the Georgia Legislature will decide whether the language of the statute quoted herein applies to third parties and criminals or only to criminal perpetrators solely. In the case our firm is handling, the Defendants contend that the language of the statute only tolls the statute of limitations for causes of action that victims of crime have against the criminal perpetrators only. However, the clear wording of the statute is so broad as to clearly encompass claims against third parties as well. Indeed, it appears that the Georgia Legislature recognizes that victims many times are not only traumatized physically and emotionally and thereby delayed in bringing civil actions because of such trauma, but also are usually unable to access and/or discover important evidence and information in their cases, particularly with regards to the possible involvement of third party actors.

The police oftentimes will not tell the victim or their family everything about the case and for understandable reasons have to keep some information confidential. If important information is discovered after the 2-year statute of limitations in personal injury cases has run the innocent crime victim’s rights could be jeopardized were it not for the existence of this remedial unprotective statute. We intend to fight to uphold this important victim’s rights statute.
Finch McCranie, LLP has a long history of representing innocent victims of both negligent and criminal acts. Finch McCranie, LLP is principally in charge of the effort of defending the rights of victims throughout this state in trying to convince the Georgia Court of Appeals that the language of the statute, as written by the Legislature, should be interpreted in such a way as to toll the statute of limitations for “any” cause of action, (including claims against third parties whose existence may not even be known until after the termination of a criminal prosecution) involving innocent victims of crime. We are confident that the Court of Appeals will agree with our interpretation of this important statute and will uphold victim’s rights in this State.

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