What is a Statute of Limitations?

804982-malletAnyone who has even a passing interest in legal matters has probably heard the term “statute of limitations” but might not fully understand what it means. If one has been injured and is looking to bring a civil action against the negligent party, it is critical to understand what the term means. This is because the ability to file suit must comply with statute of limitation rules.

So, what exactly is a statute of limitations? On a baseline level, a statute of limitations is the specified timeframe one is allowed to initiate criminal or civil legal action. Once the statute of limitations has expired then no matter how much merit a case may possess, it is not possible to initiate legal actions. Again, this is why it is critical to understand the specific state laws regarding the statutes of limitations when contemplating civil actions. After all, there is a deadline fast approaching…

Statutes of limitations are present in the vast majority of civil and criminal cases. However, there are exceptions where no statute of limitations applies. Murder cases, for example, have no statute of limitations. Assaults, however, will have varying statutes of limitations based on a particular state’s law. In some instances, one state may have a statute of limitation for a certain crime while another state will have no statute of limitations for the same offense.

When it comes to civil cases, however, statute of limitations are almost universally in place for common complaints such as slander, defamation, medical malpractice, wrongful death, product liability, etc. Generally, the starting point for a statute of limitation is when an injury occurs, when the injury is discovered, or when it was reasonable to discover the injury. For example, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is two years. If the injured party does not discover an injury until 2 years after it occurred, the statute of limitations would not start until the discovery period unless the person had reason to know. That is, if one suffers from chronic chest pains for a year prior to a disease diagnosis, the statute of limitations would start when the chest pains began as opposed to the diagnosis date.

In most instances, a statute of limitations can not be waived or extended. Then, there are those limited instances where a statute of limitations can be extended. The common instances where a statute of limitations can be extended include: when injured party is a minor (the clock on the statute of limitations will not start until the minor reaches age 18); mental incompetence; and the aforementioned “discovery rule”.

Obviously, the injured party does not possess the necessary legal knowledge to determine a statute of limitations. That is the job of a qualified attorney. However, it is the job of the injured party to initiate legal proceeding as soon as possible. If not, the ability to be awarded crucial financial compensation will be eradicated. Clearly, that is not an optimum position to find oneself.