Statutes of Limitations

Legal Nuggets- Statutes of Limitations


“Statutes of limitation are time limits-limits on the life of the legal right to bring a lawsuit. Their purpose is to prevent the bringing of a lawsuit so long after the occurrence that it would be difficult for the person sued to defend themselves. It also promotes the resolution of civil disputes. However, the amount of time varies with the type of lawsuit, with the state where the situation arose, and whether the lawsuit would be handled in state or federal court.

“Generally, you must file a lawsuit to stop the time limit from running. Once the lawsuit is properly filed and served, the time limitation is no longer an issue. While other time limits affect what procedures you must follow during a lawsuit, these are not the limits that are referred to as “statutes of limitation.”

“Sometimes it can be difficult to determine when a statutory time limit begins to run. For example, defects in the construction of a house may not show themselves for many years after the construction was completed. Should the time start running when the construction was done or when the problem began to show? What if the defect caused moisture problems and those problems were difficult to diagnose?

“The basic rule is that the time limit begins running when the victim knew or should have known they were injured. This is called the discovery rule. This rule can be harsh when the injured person fails to recognize quickly the nature of their injury. For example, a victim of medical malpractice may be rendered unable to clearly comprehend what is wrong with them or that the condition was caused by malpractice. In this impaired state they may fail to realize they were wronged.

“Because the discovery rule could effectively extend the statute of limits indefinitely for certain cases, the legislatures also pass laws called statutes of repose. These statutes limit how long a person can sue for a wrong regardless of when they discover it.

“Obviously, you must be vigilante to discover your injuries or wrongs and how quickly you must sue. These time limits are strictly enforced. If you are only a day late in filing a suit, you will lose the right to do so by operation of the statute.”

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