What’s the Hurry? How a Statute of Limitations Affects a Personal Injury Case

A statute of limitations is a law that places a time limit on bringing a lawsuit related to wrongful conduct. After the expiration of the period designated in state law, unless some sort of legal exception applies, it’s too late for the injured person to file a lawsuit seeking money damages or other types of relief.

Every state establishes its own statute of limitations for various legal actions, including personal injury cases. The specific time limits vary by state, from one year in Kentucky and Tennessee to six years in Maine and North Dakota.

The Discovery of Harm Rule9474555746_8c68c8c2ba

Although a statute of limitations specifies that a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within a certain amount of time after an accident or injury, the time period usually does not begin to run, or toll, until the moment the victim knew (or reasonably should have known) that they suffered an injury. This is known as the discovery rule.

The discovery rule does not usually apply in most car accidents and slip and fall incidents since the nature of these accidents is readily apparent and nothing is left to discover regarding the source and extent of any injury suffered.  The discovery rule can be applicable more often in a medical malpractice action, where discovery of the harm is not always immediate.

Potential Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

Sometimes the statute of limitations may be avoided by arguing that the statute has been stopped from running for a certain period of time. Some of the reasons a statute might be tolled include:

  • The victim was a minor
  • The victim was not mentally competent
  • The defendant has an active bankruptcy action pending

Any delay in discovery must be reasonable under the circumstances to toll the statute of limitations, meaning if a victim was experiencing pain and other symptoms but failed to seek medical treatment until years after an injury, his lawsuit might still be barred due to his failure to mitigate his damages.

If you have sustained a personal injury, contact a personal injury lawyer at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss online, or call 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002 (toll-free) today.

Photo courtesy of Flikr/Injury Lawyers San Luis Obispo

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