Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is a statute that sets the maximum amount of time after an event that the plaintiff has to initiate legal proceedings. Simply put, the statute of limitations sets the time limit that the plaintiff has to sue the defendant.  That being said, the case does not have to be resolved within the period specified by the statue.

The defendant can use the statute of limitations defense by raising it as an affirmative defense after the time has to file suit has passed. The defendant will do this in his or her answer to the lawsuit. The answer will often be followed with a motion for summary judgment or motion to dismiss, both based on the fact that the plaintiff didn’t file suit in time.

When does the Statute of Limitations Begin?

The statute of limitations usually begins on the day that the harmful event occurs. For example, if Billy rear-ended Kerry, the statute of limitations would start on the day the accident occurred.

The statute of limitations could also start on the day that the plaintiff discovers an injury she did not know about. This is known as the “discovery rule” and generally applies in medical malpractice claims and other types of actions where it is not obvious when the harm occurred.

Why does the Statute of Limitations Exist?

There are several reasons behind the statute of limitations. First, if the plaintiff has a valid cause of action the plaintiff should pursue it as soon as possible.

Another purpose of the statute of limitations is to make sure that the plaintiff was actively seeking out a resolution to her claim. It would not be fair to allow a defendant to be on the hook for a negligent act if the negligent act occurred twenty years ago.

Lastly, the statute of limitations is in place to ensure that the plaintiff and the defendant do not lose evidence that relates to the cause of action.

What is Tolling?

Tolling is the suspending of the statute of limitations. For example, if the plaintiff is a minor at the time that the statute of limitations is paused until the plaintiff has the capacity to sue.

Why is it Important to Consult a Lawyer?

Mere ignorance of the existence of a cause of action does not toll the statute of limitations.

If you have questions about statute of limitations on a car accident or other type of personal injury, you should consult an experienced personal injury lawyer that practices in the state where the incident occurred. Statutes of limitation vary by state, so be careful.