Statute of Limitations and Why It’s Important

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First – what is a statute of limitations? The statute of limitations is essentially a deadline for when a plaintiff must commence a lawsuit before waiving their claim. The purpose of a statute of limitations is to prevent plaintiffs from “sleeping on their legal rights” to the detriment of defendants. The time for commencing an action varies depending on the type of case, typically ranging between 2 and 6 years.   For example, in North Dakota, a libel or slander claim must be commenced within two years of when the claim for relief accrued.  Alternatively, a claim for breach of contract must be commenced within six years of when the claim for relief accrued.  A claim for relief generally accrues when the plaintiff was injured, or reasonably discovered he or she was injured, by the defendant’s actions. Because the time frame to commence an action depends on the type of claim, it is crucial to contact an attorney if you believe you have a case to ensure deadlines are met for properly commencing an action. 

The North Dakota Supreme Court recently issued an opinion which highlights the importance of the statute of limitations. In Hughes v. Olheiser Masonry, Inc., the court discussed the six-year statute of limitations for a claim of personal injury due to a defendant’s negligence.  In Hughes, the plaintiff failed to properly serve the summons and complaint, but he had filed the complaint with the district court within six years of his injury.  However, under North Dakota’s rules, an action is not commenced until a summons is served on a defendant or delivered to the sheriff’s office for service on a defendant.  The plaintiff failed to correctly have the defendant served with the summons in order to properly commence the action within the six-years after his claim for relief accrued. The plaintiff’s claim was then dismissed. 

This case provides an example of the importance of not “sleeping on” your legal rights and contacting an attorney for assistance in commencing an action. Additionally, the correct procedure for commencing an action requires strict compliance with the rules to ensure the case is not dismissed. Contact an attorney at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Attorneys in Fargo, North Dakota to discuss your legal claim or call 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002.