Our country’s legal system is set up so that the possibility of filing a lawsuit doesn’t last forever. A lawsuit filed long after the event in question would face a number of obstacles, including unclear memories, conflicting stories, misplaced evidence and difficulty tracking down witnesses who may have left the area or passed away. The purpose of a statute of limitations is to prevent such a situation.
A statute of limitations is the legal limit on the maximum amount of time that can pass between an actionable event and the first filing of a lawsuit. Most statutes of limitations in civil cases are a year or more, but they vary by state and by type. In general, a personal injury lawsuit can be filed at any time before three years have passed. There are some circumstances where the statute is two years. This may seem like a long time, but filing a suit involves a series of steps and it is always best to begin as soon after the injury as possible.
Starting the Count
In most cases, a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within three years from the event. However, injuries are a little different from other actionable events: normally you would count from the date of the accident. However, in some cases, you will not discover the extent of your injuries or their long-term effects until some time later. This is where the “discovery rule” comes into play.
The Discovery Rule
The discovery rule is the most common exception to a statute of limitations. If you did not know about the seriousness of your injury, or the fact that the injury was caused by whomever or whatever will be the defendant, then the clock starts from the date you discovered this information, not the date of the injury itself. Of course, you will need to provide evidence of this discovery at some point, so be sure to keep copies of any medical documentation of your injuries or other types of datable information.
Other Types of Extensions
There are a handful of other ways to extend the deadline, though they are not very common. For example, if the defendant travelled out-of-state soon after the injury, you may be able to extend the statute of limitations for whatever amount of time the defendant was away–in other words, only time spent in-state counts against the deadline.
If you are counting on this type of extension to file a personal injury lawsuit, you should seek legal counsel, since it is exceedingly difficult to prove in court. In addition, specific extensions may be granted if the injured person is a minor, mentally ill or disabled.
What to Do
Before all else, you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible after your injury. Even if you are not able to do this right away, go when you can; have your injuries documented and make sure that you know the full extent of your injuries. Documentation is critical: if you cannot prove that you sought medical attention, the defendant or an insurance agent may claim that you were not actually seriously injured.
Once that is done, it is a good idea to seek legal advice from an attorney with experience in personal injury lawsuits. While it is technically possible to pursue a minor personal injury lawsuit on your own, the complexities of the process make it difficult, and a lawyer may have access to investigative resources that you do not. A lawyer will also be able to help you stay on track with the claims and filing process to ensure that you do not run out the clock on the statute of limitations. If you need professional legal assistance, contact us at Harris and Graves today.