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Do Criminal Prosecutions Delay Personal Injury Claims?

As a former prosecutor I have seen first hand the overlap between criminal prosecutions and personal injury claims. In most cases where there are victims of crime there will also be the potential for civil liability against the defendant. Often times the victim of a crime will consult with a personal injury attorney prior to the State resolving the criminal prosecution. This can result in the State and the retained personal injury attorney working simultaneously to assist the client with obtaining justice for the crime committed as well as compensation for the injuries sustained. However, the civil attorney will occasionally be limited in the access he or she will have to the law enforcement investigation until the criminal prosecution has concluded.

The Georgia legislature enacted O.C.G.A §9-3-99 entitled “tolling of limitations for tort actions while criminal prosecution is pending” to address the limitations on personal injury claims when criminal prosecution is unresolved. Typically, personal injury cases have a statute of limitations of two years. This means the plaintiff in an injury action has two years from the date of the injury to bring his or her action. This time frame can become problematic considering the state has four years to prosecute most felonies. In other words, the time to pursue a civil claim would come and go before the district attorney would be required to proceed with the criminal case. O.C.G.A §9-3-99 tolls this period of time for a cause of action brought by the victim of a crime until the prosecution of such crime has become final or otherwise terminated, provided such time does not exceed 6 years.

There are many reasons an injury attorney might find it beneficial to resolve the civil case after the criminal case has concluded. For instance, a defendant will loose their right to assert their fifth amendment protection against self-incrimination after the criminal case has concluded with a plea or conviction and double jeopardy has attached. Additionally, law enforcement has access to a wide array of resources at its disposal which could prove beneficial for resolving the personal injury claim. For example, a defendant in a vehicular homicide case will usually have their blood drawn and tested, undergo road side tests by law enforcement to determine levels of intoxication and be interviewed by law enforcement investigators. Depending on the county prosecuting the case, the criminal case could be resolved fairly quickly and this information would then be available once an open records request is submitted to the appropriate agency. Having this information prior to injury negotiations could make all the difference in obtaining compensation for an injured party.

If you have been injured due to negligence or a crime it is important to seek counsel from a Douglasville Personal Injury Attorney as soon as possible. We will evaluate your case and advise you of all your options.