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Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits

The time a plaintiff has to file a personal injury lawsuit is not unlimited. Medical malpractice, auto accident, and unsafe premises suits, among other types of personal injury claims, are restricted in the time limits afforded to plaintiffs bringing claims. The applicable time limit is called the statute of limitations and varies by state. Once the applicable statute of limitations has lapsed or passed, a plaintiff cannot sue to recover damages for the personal injury unless a limited exception applies.

Factors Determining Statute of Limitations

There are several components to the determination of the applicable statute of limitations to a personal injury claim. The first factor to recognize is that the statutes of limitations are state-specific laws and they vary significantly from one to state to another. A litigant may have anywhere from several months to more than two years, depending on the controlling jurisdiction. Another significant factor to keep in mind is that the majority of states have particular statutes of limitation for different personal injury case types. Product liability suits, for instance, have a different term limit that applies to them than medical malpractice contexts, as those cases often have shorter time lines, even if minors are impacted and injured.

Claims Against Government Entities

Claims filed against governmental entities are set apart in a class of their own, whether that government is local, state, or federal. Parties filing suits against a government (or its employee or representative) must provide notice to the government of the claims being filed within a prescribed period of time from the date of the injury. The penalty for the injured party not providing notice of the claim to the government is often fatal, in that the injury claim is totally barred. The time period for providing such notice may be as short as one month.

"Discovery of Harm" Doctrine

In the majority of personal injury suits, the statute of limitations starts to run on the day of the occurrence that caused the injury at issue. But, under a rule known as the "discovery of harm" doctrine, that time period is altered. Instead, the statute of limitations period commences when the injured party's injury and that injury's cause were first known to the claimant or should have been known by him or her. The applicable standard for such knowledge is a reasonable person standard.