Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

Whether you’ve suffered personal injury because of a car accident or because of medical malpractice, it is important to understand the time limit that you have before you can no longer file a personal injury lawsuit. This time limit is known as the Statute of Limitations. You’ll notice that your state may have its own rules for its Statute of Limitations. Some states have their time limits set to longer than others, while some may be incredibly short.

Understanding the Statute of Limitations

Let’s take a look first at the definition of what the Statute of Limitations is as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Law:

  1. Legal Definition of Statute of Limitations

    1. A statute establishing a period of time from the accrual of a case of action (as upon the occurrence or discovery of an injury) within which a right of action must be exercised.
    2. A criminal statute establishing the period of time within which an offense can be punished after its commission.
  2. A period of time established by a statute of limitations for commencing an action or prosecution.

  3. An affirmative defense that the statute of limitations has expired.

As defined by these definitions, should you fail to file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, you will have no legal right to file for your personal injury. Next, you should know about how the statute of limitations may interact differently with your case, depending on the nature of your case.

Different States, Different Claims… Different Time Limits

Depending on the state that you live in, the time you have to file a claim may be different based on the kind of personal injury that you have suffered. One of the most discussed is how medical malpractice injuries usually have a much shorter time limit compared to others. Another example is how your age may actually affect your statute of limitations, such as injuries for minors under the age of 18. It is important that when you get injured, you consult with a personal injury lawyer promptly so that you can have at least a full understanding of your state’s particular statute of limitations for your unique situation—even if you haven’t decided on whether or not you wish to file a lawsuit at all.

Your state’s statute of limitations may also be affected by their individual definition of “Discovery of Harm” and how their statute of limitations interacts with that.

Understanding “Discovery of Harm”

Typically, the statute of limitations is described as beginning upon the occurrence of the injury. But even the definition of that occurrence may be defined by what’s called the “Discovery of Harm”, or the moment you personally find out that you’ve suffered an injury. This is to account for if an injury were to happen, but a victim doesn’t have a plain and significant reason to know or realize until later. A clear example of this would be a medical malpractice injury where a surgeon botched a surgery, but a complication doesn’t arise until later—that may count as a situation where the statute of limitations would be set to when the patient discovered that they’d been injured later on when those complications arose. Here’s a layout of how Discovery of Harm may affect this case:

  • Discovery of Harm may extend the statute of limitations if:

    • The surgery was botched but the patient felt no immediate aftereffects like pain or discomfort. A year later, the patient begins to feel terrible pain in the area of surgery and increased symptoms of what came from before the surgery.
      • Since the patient had no clear or reasonable way to discover they had been injured until those symptoms began appearing around the area of surgery, the law may give that patient a statute of limitations beginning upon the actual Discovery of Harm.
  • Discovery of Harm may NOT extend the statute of limitations if:

    • The surgery was botched but the patient decided not to quickly report the resurgence of symptoms and pain around the area of surgery, instead waiting for years before finally reporting it.
      • In this case, the patient had a clear reason to report their injury but neglected to do so until after the typical statute of limitations in their state. This would result in their statute of limitations being expired.

There are cases where Discovery of Harm might not play a role, such as when an injury is very obvious like in a terrible truck accident or someone breaking their arm after a fall in a construction site. That’s because there’s no need to “discover” those injuries as they are apparent in their occurrence at the moment of accident and injury. That is not to say that it doesn’t happen—sometimes unseen injuries may be discovered later on that can be tied back to an accident. Even wrongful death cases can come under the effects of the discovery rule, though usually in particular circumstances.

Have You Been Injured? Understand Your State’s Statute of Limitations with a Personal Injury Lawyer

If you’ve suffered injury because of the negligence of another—whether you’re thinking of filing a lawsuit or not—you should always have an idea of the statute of limitations in your state and for your kind of case. Your state can have different time limits for different cases, but a personal injury lawyer can help make sure you know the right ones so that you can take legal action while you still can. With our heavily curated top expert lists, TopResearched can help you find the best personal injury lawyers near you, so that you can save time and make the right phone calls quick!