The term “statute of limitations” refers to a law dictating the amount of time a person has to file a lawsuit after an incident occurs. Essentially a statute of limitations prevents someone from suing another person for an event that took place long ago.
After the time period is up, the victim has basically given up his right to recover monetary compensation. For personal injury suits, that is, those alleging wrongdoing on the part of the defendant which caused personal harm to the plaintiff, the statute of limitations can range from one to six years, depending upon the state in which the incident occurred.
• Discovery of Harm- The “discovery of harm” provision mandates that the statute of limitations does not apply until after the person realizes, or “discovers” that he or she has been harmed. For example, if a person is in a car accident and does not begin having back pain until six months after the incident, the statute of limitations does not begin on the day of the injury, but on the day that the harm has been discovered—in this case, six months later. Granted, the victim will have to prove that the back pain was a result of the car accident, and not some other injury or medical reason.
• Minors- If the victim in a personal injury suit is a minor, the statute of limitations does not begin until the individual’s eighteenth birthday. This stipulation protects the legal rights of children who may not know the law, or how to seek legal help, until long after the incident has taken place.
• Type of Injury-The statute of limitations may fluctuate depending upon what type of injury was inflicted. For example, a defamation case may have a different statute of limitations than a medical malpractice case. The laws regarding different types of injuries and the length of time you have to pursue a case change from state to state and over time as well, so your best bet is to seek counsel.
• Extensions- The statute of limitation can be extended in any personal injury case if extenuating circumstances exist. For instance, if the victim is incapacitated in any way due to the injury and cannot make legal decisions on his own, then the statute of limitations will not go into effect until after the individual recovers enough to pursue a suit. Other reasons that a statute might be extended, or “tolled,” in a case include a defendant’s financial status (such as bankruptcy) and cases in which the victim is deemed mentally incompetent.
Since laws often change, sometimes overnight, you need to seek legal assistance from a lawyer who is knowledgeable about the statute of limitations in your state. He or she can advise you as to exactly what your rights are. Despite the need for legal counsel, the statute of limitations is really about common sense—if you’ve been hurt in an accident or during a medical procedure, and you believe it was someone else’s fault, act right away. Don’t wait until it’s too late to receive the compensation you deserve.