December 11, 2018
Car Accident Lawyer
Every state has a set of laws that limit the time in which legal claims can be filed in courts. Those laws are called statutes of limitations. The time in which a lawsuit must be filed is called a “limitations period.”
States set different limitations periods for different kinds of lawsuits. For example, people usually have a longer period of time to sue for breach of contract than they have to sue for a personal injury. The limitations period for bringing an employment discrimination claim is usually shorter than the limitations period to sue for unpaid wages.
Personal Injury Limitations Periods
Different states set different limitations periods for personal injury lawsuits. Depending on the state in which the injury occurs, the statute of limitations may be as short as 1 year or as long as 6 years. Limitations periods of 2 or 3 years are fairly common.
The same state may set a different limitations period depending on whether the injury claim is based on an intentional act or negligence. Some states set shorter limitations periods for medical malpractice claims or wrongful death lawsuits than other kinds of personal injury cases.
Many states extend the limitations period when the accident victim is incapable of bringing a lawsuit. For example, minors usually cannot sue on their own behalf, so states often give minors who are injury victims a longer period of time to file suit. Individuals who are disabled or imprisoned may also be subject to a longer limitations period, depending on state law.
Injury victims need to be careful when they compute the applicable limitations period. For example, the limitations period in a negligence case might be measured from:
- the date of the negligent act;
- the date on which the injury arising from the negligent act occurred;
- the date on which the negligent act was discovered; or
- the date on which the injury arising from the negligent act was discovered.
The limitations period might also be extended when the negligent party fraudulently conceals a negligent act (as when a doctor falsifies medical records to conceal medical negligence). Since the limitations period can be difficult to calculate, it is wise to explain all the facts to a personal injury lawyer and to seek a legal opinion about the applicable limitations period.
Why Do Limitations Periods Exist?
A statute of limitations is sometimes called a statute of repose. The legal concept of repose means that people who might have done something wrong should not need to look over their shoulders for the rest of their lives, wondering whether they will be sued for their alleged misconduct. At some point, people should be allowed to stop worrying.
A more practical reason for imposing a limitations period is that it prevents evidence from growing stale. As time goes by, memories fade and physical evidence is more difficult to find. Requiring people to bring lawsuits while evidence is still relatively fresh improves the quality of outcomes by limiting the risk that claims and defenses will be based on unreliable evidence.
Lawmakers sometimes say that people should not be allowed to “sit on their rights.” That’s another way of saying that victims who have been harmed by another person’s actions should be encouraged to bring their lawsuits promptly. This is fair to the person who is accused of misconduct, because it becomes more difficult for those persons to find and preserve evidence to defend themselves as time passes.
Notice of Claim Statutes
A notice of claim requirement is similar to a statute of limitations. When claims are asserted against the government — such as a claim that a car accident was caused by poor road maintenance or a malfunctioning traffic light — the person bringing the claim is often required to give the government notice that the victim intends to bring a legal claim.
Notice of claim statutes may also apply to injuries caused by government employees. Whether they apply to traffic accidents in which a government employee (such as a municipal bus driver) was driving while “on duty” depends on state law.
Notice of claim statutes are generally much shorter than limitations periods. Injury victims may only have three to six months in which to file a notice of claim.
Required contents of the notice differ from state to state. Notice of claim statutes generally require the injury victim to identify the date, place, and cause of the injury. Some states require the notice (or a separate notice) to itemize the damages that resulted from the government’s negligence.
Failure to comply with a notice of claim statute, like the failure to file a lawsuit before the limitations period expires, can be fatal to the injury victim’s case. Injury victims should always consult with an auto accident lawyer as soon as the injury occurs so that the limitations period and any notice deadline can be calculated promptly.