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Injury claim process

The statute of limitations for personal injury cases refers to the set time limit within which you must file a civil lawsuit in court after suffering an  injury in an accident or incident caused by the alleged negligent acts, or inactions, of the defendant, or defendants. This period varies significantly depending on the state in which you reside and the nature of your claim, but generally ranges between one to four years from the date  the injury occurred (though in some states, it is as long as six years, but this is not common).

The Purpose of The Statute of Limitations

The purpose of the statute of limitations is to ensure fairness and timeliness within the legal system.

It discourages unnecessary delays in bringing claims forward which could disadvantage defendants who are obligated to defend claims from many years prior. Without a statute of limitations, people would have to worry forever about pending lawsuits, which generally doesn’t seem fair.

Additionally, timely filing encourages reliability and freshness of evidence, promoting accuracy and truthfulness in legal proceedings. If you wait too long to file a lawsuit, it’s likely that witnesses will forget what happened or you may be unable to locate them altogether.

Additionally, evidence the defendant would need to defend themselves may not exist anymore, and evidence you need to prove your claim may also no longer be attainable.

Common Exceptions To The Statute of Limitations

It’s crucial to gain an understanding of the most common exceptions to the statute of limitations, which include the following:

Evasive Defendant

If an individual responsible for causing an accident attempts to evade a lawsuit by concealing their location, the statute of limitations is paused. This legal concept is called tolling. Basically, if someone hides or goes off-the-radar after causing a harm as a way to prevent service of process and avoid accountability in court, they cannot take advantage of the statute limitations. The timeline resumes when they are located again and can be properly served with legal papers.

The Discovery Rule

The discovery rule is a legal concept that allows for the extension of the statute of limitations in some cases; it often applies in medical malpractice cases. Under this exception, the statute of limitations only begins to run when you become aware, or should have reasonably become aware, of an injury or its cause at a later date.

Essentially, it recognizes that sometimes injuries aren’t immediately obvious and gives you more time to file a lawsuit once you discover or should have discovered your injury and its cause. This rule helps ensure fairness by not penalizing individuals who couldn’t have reasonably known about their injuries within the standard timeframe.

Injured Minors

When a minor (someone under 18) is injured, the statute of limitations usually doesn’t start until they reach the age of a legal adult, which is typically 18. This gives them more time to file a lawsuit because they may not have the legal capacity or understanding to do so before reaching adulthood. It’s a way to protect minors and ensure they have fair access to justice for injuries suffered during their childhood years.

Claims Against Governments/Municipalities

When it comes to filing a claim against the government, the deadline is often shorter compared to other types of civil cases. The applicable statute of limitations can range from around 6 months to one year. This means you need to act quickly and submit your claim within that limited timeframe if you want to pursue legal action against a government entity for any injuries or damages suffered.

Mental Incompetence

The rule for those who are mentally incompetent provides that the statute of limitations will not start until the person regains mental competence. This means if someone has been determined to be unable to handle their legal affairs due to a mental condition, they won’t be held accountable for filing within normal statutory deadlines. The clock on the statute of limitations doesn’t start ticking until they can effectively make decisions and understand their rights – once they regain legal competence.

Wrongful Death Claims

The deadlines for filing wrongful death lawsuits are often different from those enforced for other personal injury claims. Always speak with a lawyer to ensure you don’t miss the deadline.

Foreign Object Left in Body

In some states, an exception exists for cases involving foreign objects left in your body during surgical procedures and other medical operations, such as surgical tools or sponges. You are usually permitted to file a lawsuit within a specified time period after learning of the object, regardless of how long has passed since the event actually took place.

The rationale is that you might not become aware of such object’s presence until several years post-surgery, and you shouldn’t be punished for someone else’s dangerous mistake.

Understanding The Statute of Repose

statute of repose is a legal term that sets an absolute limit on when a lawsuit can be filed, irrespective of when the alleged harm or injury may have been discovered.

Once this deadline has passed, it extinguishes any potential claim forever, even if you’re just now discovering your injury.

What Happens if You Miss The Statute of Limitations?

If you miss the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim, the court will likely dismiss your case immediately. This means no matter how serious your injuries are or how clear it is that someone else was at fault, you lose any chance of pursuing legal compensation.

Contact a Lawyer As Soon As Possible After an Injury

As you can see, understanding the statute of limitations for your situation is critical because missing this deadline can make you ineligible to receive any compensation that might be owed to you. For this reason, it’s recommended that you consult with a lawyer as soon as possible after your injury. They will help determine the appropriate timelines based on specific laws in your jurisdiction.