Georgia Supreme Court Considers Ambiguous Contract Language in Georgia Personal Injury Case

When someone is injured in Georgia as the result of someone else’s negligence, the law allows them to bring a personal injury lawsuit against them to recover for their injuries. However, every personal injury case in the state must be brought within a certain time, which is listed in the relevant statute of limitations. In most Georgia personal injury cases, the plaintiff must file suit within two years of the date of the injury. However, state law allows parties to enter into contracts to limit the time within which a lawsuit may be brought, down to one year, for example.

In some cases, there may be disputes over whether or not this contractual provision applies to a specific suit. Recently, the Georgia Supreme Court considered a case where this issue arose. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was a tenant in the defendant’s apartment complex, located in Morrow, Georgia. The parties entered into a written lease when the plaintiff moved in. The lease included, in part, a provision stating that the plaintiff agreed and understood that “any legal action” against the defendant “must be instituted within one year of the date any claim or cause of action arises.”

About a year after the contract was signed, the plaintiff was walking in a common area of the apartment complex when she tripped on a broken and crumbling portion of the curb. She then brought suit against the apartment complex for being negligent in not repairing the curb. The apartment complex then moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s lawsuit was barred because it was not brought within one year, as stipulated in her signed lease. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The question before the Georgia Supreme Court was whether the limitations on actions provision of the lease applies to her negligence action for failing to repair the curb. The court ultimately determined that it did not. Although the language of the contract could be read to apply to tort claims as well as other claims, the court found that case law supported a narrower reading, where the provision only applied to claims arising from the contract itself. The court also drew upon rules of contract interpretation, which state that, if a term is ambiguous, the court should interpret the clause against the drafter. Thus, the provision in question did not apply to the plaintiff’s claim. As a result, the lower courts’ decisions were overturned and the plaintiff was allowed to proceed with her case.

Have You Been Injured As a Result of Someone Else’s Negligence?

If you or a loved one have been injured in a Georgia car accident, you may be able to file a negligence action against the responsible party. Because the costs associated with being injured may be high, our attorneys at McAleer Law want to help you recover the financial compensation you deserve. Our Atlanta personal injury law firm helps plaintiffs across the state of Georgia recover financially for past and future medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and more. Contact us today at 404-622-5337 to schedule your free initial consultation.

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