Understanding the Statute of Limitations in Personal Injury Law

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Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Cases

If you’re filing a lawsuit, one of the first things to consider is the statute of limitations. Essentially, this is the deadline that the plaintiff has to file the case. The statute of limitations for suing varies greatly depending on what state you’re in, and it’s also quite strict in most circumstances.

It’s important to pay close attention to this element of the law, because filing after the statute of limitations has expired will result in an otherwise winnable case being dismissed outright. Once your time has run out, you forever lose the right to pursue the legal claim.

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Examples of statutes in different states

For a personal injury lawsuit, the time limit varies by state from one year to six years. The New York personal injury statute of limitations falls right in the middle with three. In addition to the actual length of time, there are varying definitions of when the clock starts running. Generally, the “date of harm” — the day the injury was incurred — is when the the law would begin counting down toward the statute of limitations on personal injury.

There is a major exception to this rule, known as the “discovery rule.” This exists to protect people who were not immediately aware of the harm they had sustained. Under certain circumstances in a case like this, the “date of discovery” — when the victim actually learned of the harm — would mark the beginning of the period covered by the statute of limitations.

An exception to this exception exists as well. In some versions of the law, the date of discovery would be irrelevant if it came after the the date that the judge decrees the plaintiff reasonably should have known about it. For example, it’s possible that the effects of a botched surgery might not manifest right away, but it’s unlikely that six years later the issue still would not have become obvious.

What are exceptions to the statute of limitations?

The discovery rule is the biggest exception to the statute of limitations. Even if the date of discovery far surpasses the date ruled by the judge as the reasonable time of expected discovery, this exception can still stand. It’s commonly a factor in medical malpractice lawsuits. Medical errors can result in symptoms that don’t manifest right away and then prove difficult to diagnose.

Similarly, suing for an injury at work — like a lung condition caused by asbestos — can be pursued well after the statute of limitations if the plaintiff was not aware of the dangerous conditions and did not develop the disease for years. As long as the plaintiff can provide reasonable evidence and testimony supporting the late date of discovery, he or she should be granted permission to pursue the claim.

Why was the statute of limitations created?

The concept of the statute of limitations was created to protect defendants from unfair lawsuits. If too much time has gone by after the incident in question, it becomes harder to litigate as important evidence gets lost. Defendants may not be able to properly disprove the charges against them. It’s also held that a plaintiff with a valid claim would be motivated to pursue it in a timely manner, and that bringing up cases related to events long in the past can do more harm than good.

The statute of limitations dates back to Classical Greece. The statesman Demosthenes created a five year limit on prosecution in crimes except for homicide. This practice continues today; homicide and other serious crimes usually do not carry a statute of limitations.

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