Facing an injury in the aftermath of an accident can make anyone feel overwhelmed and frustrated. You may have mounting medical bills, lost wages, and have to deal with physical and emotional challenges from day to day.
As an injured party, you have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit to seek compensation—but only for a certain amount of time. For many injured plaintiffs, filing a lawsuit is an important chance to be repaid for losses they’ve suffered due to someone else’s negligence.
If you plan to file a lawsuit for your injuries after an accident, the statute of limitations can play a big role in how long you have the right to be compensated. Knowing how the statute of limitations works could help you protect that right and avoid issues with your claim(s) down the road.
How The Statute Of Limitations Works
The statute of limitations sets a strict limit on the amount of time an injured party has the right to seek compensation for those injuries after an accident. Generally, this means that if you plan to file a personal injury lawsuit, you must do so before the deadline that is set by the statute of limitations.
Filing after the statute of limitations has run out usually results in cases being dismissed, because there is no longer a right to sue—but there are some exceptions.
State Statutes Of Limitations For Personal Injury Cases
All states have passed a statute of limitations. Depending on the state, the statute of limitations can range from one to six years.
Aside from which state, the type of claim that you plan to file could also affect how much time you are allowed. Most states have statutes of limitations that are specifically for personal injury cases, but in some states there are longer deadlines for filing certain defamation cases, or shorter ones for filing claims involving medical malpractice.
If you are interested in filing a claim but have questions about the statute of limitations, you may want to speak with an experienced attorney about your case.
When Does The Claim-Filing Time Limit Begin?
In most personal injury cases, the statute of limitations begins to run from the day you were injured. Usually, this is the day the accident occurred.
For example, if you slipped in a puddle of water at your local supermarket and injured your back from falling, the statute of limitations would typically begin running on the day of your fall, when you were hurt.
Exceptions To The Statute Of Limitations
Sometimes, there are more rare exceptions that can change the statute of limitations’ standard deadline for filing a lawsuit.
The “Discovery Rule” Exception
Most states have a “discovery rule” exception, which allows an injured party to have more time to file a lawsuit if they did not know (and had no reasonable way to know) that they a) were injured and/or b) were injured from the potential defendant’s actions until after the original statute of limitations had run out.
Under this rule, “the clock” does not begin running for the statute of limitations until the victim realizes, or reasonably should realize, the injury and its cause. This exception can apply to cases involving toxic exposures or pharmaceutical products because it can take years to recognize a link between an incident and the resulting injury.
An Example Of The Discovery Rule
In a toxic exposure case, for example, say your state has a three-year statute of limitations for all personal injury cases. However, your state also has a discovery rule that says the statute of limitations will not begin to run until the person filing the suit knew (or reasonably should have known) that they had been harmed and knew (or reasonably should have known) the cause of the harm.
You buy a house in 1980 and in 2000 (20 years later) are diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer that can only be caused by asbestos exposure. Testing in your house reveals that there is asbestos in the house, and it’s been flaking into the air since you bought it in 1980.
This information allows you to realize in 2000 that you’ve been injured, and that there is a link between your injury and the asbestos exposure. Although the state’s standard three-year statute of limitations deadline for your personal injury claim has certainly run out by the year 2000, the discovery rule exception could still allow you to file a lawsuit for your injury.
It’s important to keep in mind that the delay in finding you were injured and the cause of that injury must be considered reasonable for this exception to apply. For instance, say in the example above you experienced health complications a month after moving into your house in 1980, but refused to see a doctor for many years.
This could cause your case to be dismissed, given that you could reasonably have learned about your injury, and the asbestos causing it, within the original statute of limitations deadline.
Other Statute Of Limitations Exceptions
Most states have an exception that can cause the deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit to be paused, or “tolled” while the defendant is out of state. If a defendant causes an accident that leaves you injured, and then leaves the state for any period of time, the statute of limitations “clock” is tolled, or stopped, for that time.
For example, say your state has a four-year statute of limitations for filing personal injury lawsuits. If you are injured in a car accident and the person who caused that accident leaves the state for two years, then your deadline to file for personal injury would be extended by another two years (or six years total).
Other exceptions that could extend a state’s standard statute of limitations include when the injured party is:
- a minor (under 18 years of age)
- mentally ill
It’s important to keep in mind that there are other exceptions, and some states do not have the exceptions listed above. For these reasons, if you are wondering how the statute of limitations will affect your case, you may want to meet with a personal injury lawyer for help.
Finding A Personal Injury Lawyer
If someone else has caused you to be hurt, protecting your right to seek compensation is critical. Don’t wait to file a claim until your statute of limitations has run out. Contact our experienced team of lawyers today for help with filing your personal injury claim.