It is absolutely essential that you file a lawsuit on time, otherwise you may miss out on compensation you deserve, and depending on your accident there is every chance that other people may be injured too.
The Time Limits on your Lawsuit
Regardless of who or what caused your accident, or the injuries that you sustained, every single state has time limits that dictate when you can file a lawsuit. Known as the ‘Statute of Limitations’ the amount of time that you have can be affected by the type of claim that you make.
One state may let you file a claim within one year of your accident in which you sustained a broken arm, whereas another state may give you as many as five years to claim. If you think you may be able to make a claim, or someone may be making a claim against you, please consult your lawyer as the rules can be quite complicated.
When Exactly does Time Start Running Out?
As soon as you’re aware of what your statute of Limitations is, you will need to work out when the statute came into effect. The statute usually comes into effect the moment you were injured, your property was damaged, or a contract was violated. In other words when the ‘Date of harm’ was.
There is an exception to this rule, however, and this rule is taken into account when the injured person or ‘Plaintiff’ was unaware that they had been harmed. In situations such as these, the statute of limitations may come into effect when the plaintiff became aware of the injuries, this date is known as the ‘Date of discovery’. In some situations, the ‘Date of discovery’ may also be the day on which the injured party ‘Should have discovered’ that they were injured or harmed.
For some specific types of legal actions the statute of limitations can come into effect at the following times:
Earliest – The date of harm
Later – the date when the injured party should have discovered that they have been harmed.
Latest – This is the date when the harm was discovered by the injured party.
For example, Patricia visited her dentist so that she could undergo a common procedure. During the procedure the dentist accidentally left a piece of dental equipment in her mouth, causing constant pain. Two years later upon being x-rayed by another dentist, Patricia discovered the piece of dental equipment. In this case, the latest date – the date when the harm (Piece of dental equipment was discovered) would be known as the ‘Date of discovery’ and this is when the statute of limitations would begin.
If Patricia had discovered the piece of dental equipment on the date of harm, the statute of limitations would have begun then. If a judge decides that Patricia should have discovered her injury two weeks after the procedure, this is when the statute of limitations would begin.
Time limits and the Statutes of Limitations
Many statutes of limitations last for at least one year, but this can change if you happen to be claiming against a government agency. If you plan to sue a government agency it’s likely that you will have a least one year from the ‘Date of harm’. This is regardless of the type of claim you would like to make against the government agency, or which state you live in. If you sue within one year, you should not need to worry about the statute of limitations.
As soon as you file your claim there is no indication as to how long it make take for your case to come to an end. There may have been a time limit on when you need to file your claim by, but there is no official limitation as to when your case will be concluded. Some states do have what is called a ‘Diligent prosecution statute’, but this refers to the time limit given in which you should move your case to trial. If within the given time you do not move your case to trial it may be dismissed.
Government Agencies and the Statute of Limitations
Unless you have filed an administrative claim with the state, county, or city that the government agency is a part of, you cannot sue them. What’s more is you could have just 60 days to submit the claim. If and when your claim has been denied by the government, the letter that you will receive detailing the denial will also inform you of how long you have left to file a lawsuit.
If you are Defending an Old Case
If you are defending an old case, you may be worried that a judge will dismiss it as the statute of limitations has passed. however, this is not always the case. It is up to the defendant to tell the court about the violation of the statute of limitation, not you.
If you are defending yourself against a claim, you will need to have an ‘Affirmative defense’ that alleges the complaint is untimely as the statute of limitations may have passed. In some states and courts, you can also file a ‘Motion to dismiss’, which asks the judge to throw the claim out of court as it is untimely.
The Statute of Limitations in California
The statutes of limitations in California often differ from the rest of the United States. Below you will find a brief summary of the statutes, however, some changes may have been made since the time of writing. Please consult an experienced lawyer as they will have up to date information regarding the states’ statutes of limitations.
Breach of an oral contract: 2 years.
Breach of a written contract: 4 years.
Childhood sexual abuse: 8 years from the victim’s 18th birthday, or 3 years after they realize that psychological or physical harm is as a result of the abuse.
Medical malpractice: 3 years from the date of injury, or 1 year from the date of discovery, or when it should have been discovered, whatever occurs first.
Suits for injuries from domestic violence: 3 years from the last act of violence.
Suits for slander or libel: 1 year.
Regardless of who or what caused your accident, or the injuries that you sustained, every single state has time limits that dictate when you can file a lawsuit. It is absolutely essential that you file a lawsuit on time, otherwise you may miss out on compensation you deserve. If you are unclear as to how the statute of limitations affects you, please speak to an experienced lawyer as soon as you can.
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