Car Accident Lawyers Jennifer Dunlap and Ray Lakes are the best lawyers in Columbus, Georgia for your personal injury case. We have recovered millions of dollars for our clients, and we have over 25 years experience in the law, including both in pre-litigation and litigation. We are also firmly committed to giving back to our community in Columbus, Georgia through our non-profit Second Criminal Record Relief.
The best time to hire a car accident attorney is immediately after the wreck. This is because you need immediate legal advice on how to handle your case. Studies have shown that the average car accident settlement in the United States is about $60,000.00. However, Dunlap & Lakes, P.C.’s average is obviously much higher.
Regardless, when you have been hurt in a wreck, you have substantial money on the line. Also, you are hurt and need guidance on how to handle your medical treatment, because your medical treatment now involves a legal case attached to it. You will have numerous insurance companies, hospitals, and other medical providers calling you to discuss your case. Call us to help with all of that.
At Dunlap & Lakes, we have the legal experience you need to get the most money possible on your case. Our consultation is always free, and there is no fee unless we recover for your case.
In Georgia, the statute of limitations in a car accident or other personal injury case is governed by OCGA 9-3-33, which provides that “actions for injuries to the person shall be brought within two years after the right of action accrues.”
This means that a lawsuit for a car accident must be commenced within two years after you are injured in a car accident or your claim is forever barred by law. “To commence a lawsuit, a plaintiff must both file her complaint and serve it on the defendant.” Anglin v. State Farm, 348 Ga. App. 362, 364 (1) (2019).
Statute of Limitations on Claims Against the Government in Personal Injury Claims
While the Statute of Limitations in car accident cases is generally two years, an important exception to this rule is when a government entity has caused your car accident. This is basically a statute of limitations to provide notice to the appropriate government entity that you are contemplating litigation.
In Georgia, when the car accident involves a municipal, county, or state entity, a pre-suit notice is required known as an ante-litem notice.
In municipal cases, the ante-litem notice must be personally served or sent certified mail within six months of the incident to the head of the government entity involved in the incident. In municipal cases, this will typically be the mayor. OCGA 36-33-5(f). If the case involves a county, the ante-litem must be served within 12 months. OCGA 36-11-1. For consolidated governments, like Columbus, Georgia, they are typically treated as a county. Columbus v. Barngrover, 552 S.E.2d 536 (Ga. Ct. App. 2001).
For state entities, the ante-litem notice must be mailed by certified mail within 12 months to Risk Management Division of the Department of Administrative Services and the government entity involved.
Tolling of Statute of Limitations in Georgia Personal Injury Case
However, by Georgia law, certain periods of time are not included when calculating the statute of limitations. This is known as “tolling” the statute of limitations, and tolled periods of time are not counted towards the limitations period.
The most common tolling of statute of limitations occurs in car accident cases where there has been a traffic citation issued. OCGA § 9-3-99 provides that:
In Beneke v. Parker, 684 S.E.2d 243 (Ga. 2009), the Georgia Supreme Court held that Uniform Traffic Citations commonly issued after motor vehicle wrecks in Georgia car accident cases tolled the statute of limitations under OCGA 9-3-99.
In Beneke, the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff on April 27, 2005. The defendant was cited with following too closely, and the Defendant forfeited a cash bond on May 19, 2005, which terminated the traffic citation case. The Plaintiff filed suit on May 11, 2007. So, the lawsuit was timely filed because the period from April 27, 2005 until May 19, 2005 was not counted for statute of limitations purposes.
Thus, in a car accident case in Georgia where the defendant received a traffic citation following a wreck, the statute of limitations period is tolled “until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated.” It is important to closely monitor the underlying traffic citation case to determine when your statute of limitations begins to run.
The Statute of Limitations for Minors in Georgia Personal Injury Cases
In Georgia, children who are injured in a car accident have more time to file a personal injury action than adults, because their minority constitutes a legal disability. Thus, under OCGA 9-3-90(b), the minor child has two years “after he or she reaches the age of 18 years” to file a personal injury action in their car accident case. Thus, practically speaking, they have until their 20th birthday to file a claim.
With that being said, the medical expense portion of a minor’s claim must still be filed within two years of the date of the injury. This is because the medical expenses are “necessaries” that a parent is legally bound to pay for the minor. Thus, the medical expense portion of the minor’s claim expires after two years, because that claim belongs to their parents and/or legal guardian with custody of the minor. Jarrell v. State Merit System, 205 Ga. App. 527 (1992).
The impact of this framework means that while a minor child has until 20 to file a claim for their pain and suffering, recovery for their medical bills are still subject to a two-year statute of limitations. As a practical matter, it may be better to file a claim within the two year statute of limitations.
Statute of Limitations in Georgia Personal Injury Cases Where a Party Has Died
Another common situation where the statute of limitations is tolled is where a person has died and an estate has not been set up with the probate court. This is pursuant to OCGA 9-3-92, which provides:
This means that if someone has died from a wrongful death in a car accident, the general two year statute of limitations is tolled up to five years until the deceased person has an administrator or executor appointed by the probate court. The statute of limitations begins to run once the administrator or executor is appointed by the probate court. This is usually a very simple matter to complete, but it is important to note that the statute of limitations is tolled for up to five years until this is done. The same holds true if the defendant that you are making a claim against has died. See OCGA 9-3-93, which provides that the statute is similarly tolled for up to five years while the deceased defendant’s estate is unrepresented. So, if you were injured in a car accident by a defendant’s negligence who died in the accident, your statute of limitations may have additional tolling time under this tolling provision.
Your case is most likely a significant case if you hire Georgia personal injury attorneys Dunlap & Lakes, P.C. Our average settlements for clients are quite significant. That being said, insurance companies and their armies of defense lawyers often look at several different considerations in estimating the value of a case for settlement purposes, including:
Whether Liability is Clear on Your Personal Injury Case is a Consideration on Your Personal Injury
Claim If liability is reasonably clear in your case, then your case is obviously worth more than if the defendant disputes liability. In most motor vehicle accident cases, liability is reasonably clear as police officers generally will make a fault determination at the scene of the wreck after an initial investigation. Thus, if the responding police officer has found the other driver at fault, then you case is worth more.
In some cases, though, liability can be disputed, such as intersection wreck cases where the driver who hit you claims they had a green. Liability is also frequently disputed in slip and fall and trip and fall cases where the business where you fell claims that had no knowledge of a dangerous condition on their premises.
It is important to contact Dunlap & Lakes, P.C. immediately after an incident where you are hurt so that we can assist with your initial investigation and shore up any issues with liability through witness investigation, accident reconstruction, and obtaining video and documentary evidence to support your case.
How Injured You Are From the Accident is an Important Consideration in Your Personal Injury Case
If your injuries are catastrophic or very serious, then the insurance adjuster and the defense lawyer will value your case substantially more than a case that involves lesser injuries. Obviously, a wrongful death case involving your loved one is also generally going to be valued higher by the insurance adjuster.
Insurance adjusters typically divide personal injury cases into two categories: “soft-tissue” and “surgical” cases. Soft-tissue cases are deemed minimal to insurance adjusters. Any case involving a surgery is generally worth more just because these medical procedures tend to have more medical bills associated with them.
Thus, if your case involves a surgery, it is a very significant case, and you need Dunlap & Lakes, P.C. on your side.
How Much Your Medical Bills Are is a Consideration in The Value of Your Personal Injury Case
Insurance adjusters and defense attorneys tend to focus on what is called “special damages” personal injury cases when evaluating them for settlement.
If your medical bills and medical treatment are extensive, then your case will probably be valued much higher than if your case involves a single emergency room visit. This is simply because surgeries and more extensive medical treatment options tend to cost more than more basic medical treatment.
Thus, it is very important that you follow your doctor’s advice and get all the medical treatment ordered by the doctor. Furthermore, you must be your own advocate on your medical treatment. Sometimes, this may mean securing a second opinion if the doctor’s medical treatment plan for you ignores your symptoms or isn’t providing relief for your pain.
Therefore, if you have had extensive medical treatment and medical bills, you need Dunlap & Lakes, P.C. on your side. Your case is a very substantial case, and we can get your paid fully on your claim.
The Amount of Property Damage is an Important Consideration on Your Personal Injury Claim
Most insurance adjusters and defense attorneys will try to minimize your motor vehicle negligence case by arguing that the wreck was a “minor impact.” In insurance lingo, this means that the property damage was “minor” or “minimal” to them. Generally speaking, you have a good case if the property damage exceeded $3,500.00 or the vehicle was a total loss. The Insurance Policy Limits for the Person Who Hurt You Is an Important Consideration in Your Personal Injury Case
Although how much insurance is involved does not necessarily make the case more valuable, it is an important consideration for your personal injury case. If the defendant who hit you in a motor vehicle collision has a larger policy, then your case may be worth substantially more, depending on the extent of your injuries.
The Presence of Punitive Damages Increases the Value of Your Personal Injury Case
Sometimes a personal injury case may involve punitive damages. These are special damages whereby a defendant or corporation is punished for having done a civil wrong to the plaintiff. Cases where punitive damages are present are often worth many millions of dollars.
OCGA § 51-12-5.1 provides for an award of punitive damages in certain cases. In negligence cases involving motor vehicle accidents, you frequently see punitive damages present in cases where the defendant was DUI and hit and injured the plaintiff. Reid v. Morris, 309 Ga. 230 (2020). Punitive damages are also available where the defendant hit and runs a plaintiff. Langlois v. Wolford, 246 Ga. App. 209 (2000).
Thus, if you have been injured by a DUI driver or a driver who hit and ran you and was ultimately captured by the police, your case is worth significantly more than a normal motor vehicle collision case.
Contact Jennifer Dunlap and Ray Lakes today on your personal injury case for a free consultation. There is no fee unless we win your case.
Who You Hire As a Lawyer Matters in Your Personal Injury Case
Insurance adjusters and defense lawyers know which attorneys are likely to settle quick, taking less money than the case is actually worth.
Many lawyers opt for a speedy settlement. Many lawyers also lack expertise in their field and also practice in multiple areas, like criminal or family law, beyond handling personal injury cases. Additionally, some lawyers may allocate a significant amount of their time developing TV ads.
Choosing the right lawyer for your personal injury case in Georgia can impact the offer you receive from an insurance company. These companies use data and know which lawyers are more likely to settle for less and which ones can successfully represent you in court for a larger amount.
It is important to hire Jennifer Dunlap and Ray Lakes with Dunlap & Lakes, P.C. to represent you in your personal injury case. We will make sure you receive compensation for every dollar you are legally entitled to under Georgia law.
Typically, claims require some time to be resolved. On average, it takes between 12 to 18 months to settle a personal injury claim with the insurance company. If the case requires litigation and discovery, it may take 24-36 months or even longer.
The personal injury claim process takes time because it involves your medical treatment and the process of reaching maximum medical improvement. Additionally, if the insurance company is being difficult, a lawsuit may be necessary which requires a minimum six-month discovery process before your case can even go to trial.
You have the right to get a second opinion on your case anytime, even if you haven’t filed a lawsuit yet. If your lawyer isn’t communicating or doesn’t have a clear plan for your case, contact Jennifer Dunlap and Ray Lakes, P.C. Georgia Personal Injury Attorneys, for a second opinion. It is possible you retained a big law firm to help you on your case, and you have discovered that your case has been passed around to different lawyers, or, worse yet, the previous lawyer on your file quit and left the firm entirely. In such a case, you can rest assured that Georgia Personal Injury Attorneys Jennifer Dunlap and Ray Lakes are here to stay and will listen intently on your case.
Lawyers usually charge 40% of the gross settlement or verdict, along with out-of-pocket expenses. If the case goes to trial, the fees may increase to 45% or even 50% of the total payout, plus litigation expenses. If there is no need for a lawsuit and the matter is resolved before filing one, the out-of-pocket expenses will only be a small part of your settlement, but statutory or contractual liens will also be paid from the settlement funds. At Dunlap & Lakes, P.C., we only charge a fee if we win your case.
If you or a loved one have been involved in a car accident in Georgia and the person at fault had no insurance, you can still potentially make a claim under what is called uninsured motorist coverage.
Sometimes, the vehicle you are riding in or driving may have uninsured motorist coverage. So, if you were driving someone else’s car or riding as a passenger, you should check the policy of the vehicle you are riding in for uninsured motorist coverage. Furthermore, in Georgia, when you purchase automobile insurance, the insurer must offer you uninsured motorist coverage on your own policy. You can expressly reject the coverage in writing. This is a great form of insurance coverage, because many drivers are uninsured in Georgia. So, if the other driver has no insurance coverage, you will simply have to file on your own policy.
Sometimes clients are hesitant to use their own insurance coverage. However, it is worth it to file on your own policy if you have underinsured motorist coverage. You are paying a monthly premium for this coverage, and the insurance company cannot cancel your coverage just for filing a claim.
If you do not have insurance coverage on your own policy, you can file a claim under a resident relative’s policy that resides with you. So, if you have a family member related by blood or marriage living with you, you can use their policy to file a claim if they have uninsured motorist coverage.
Dunlap & Lakes, P.C. can help you locate and determine the coverage on your case if you have been hit by an uninsured motorist in Georgia.
Whether you should give a recorded statement in your car accident case depends on the company involved. If you are considering making a statement to the at-fault driver’s insurance company, this is normally not advisable. However, if you have already given such a statement, it is not fatal to your case.
However, if you are filing a claim for uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, you will likely need to cooperate and give a recorded statement. The reason is most underinsured motorist policies contain contractual provisions requiring you to cooperate with the investigation of the claim. Failure to cooperate by giving a recorded statement could constitute a breach of contract and void coverage for the claim. Examples of instances where you must cooperate include:
► You are making an uninsured/underinsured motorist claim on your own policy
► You are making an uninsured/underinsured motorist claim on a resident relative’s policy in your household
► You are making an uninsured/underinsured motorist claim when you were riding as a passenger in someone’s vehicle
In Georgia, it is irrelevant if you had a pre-existing condition, so long as that pre-existing injury was aggravated in the car accident. In other words, if the pre-existing injury was made worse by the trauma you suffered in the car accident, then you can still make a claim with the insurance company.
You can expect a relatively short wait between finalizing your settlement and receiving your payment. Usually it takes one to two weeks once a settlement agreement is reached. If litigation has taken place, it may take longer due to the presence of busy defense lawyers who draft the release paperwork.
Most insurance companies aim to efficiently close their case files, so they typically send the checks out promptly. The exact timing. may depend on whether the insurer chooses to wait until they receive your signed release before sending the check.
Once we receive the check, we will prepare a settlement statement, so you can see an itemized breakdown of your settlement. This document will detail the total amount of money received and subtract expenses such as the attorney’s fee, court costs, payment of any liens or medical bills, and any other necessary deductions. After reviewing and signing the settlement statement, we will issue a check to you for the remaining amount.
Initially, you will be responsible for initially covering these expenses. Sometimes, your automobile insurance for your vehicle will have medical payments coverage that may cover your bills. If you have health insurance, that will also cover your medical bills. If you have no medical payments coverage and no health insurance, sometimes a letter of protection can be used with a medical provider to treat you up front in consideration for a promise to be paid from the settlement funds. At the end of the case, you will receive a lump sum settlement for your case. It is not a pay as you go situation like with health or disability insurance.