Many clients want to know “What is the statute of limitations for a personal injury case?” The short answer is – the statute of limitations is the time period after which you are unable to collect damages on a specific claim. Personal injury cases have a time limit set by a statute of limitations, just like all other lawsuits. In most personal injury cases, the time period covered by the statute of limitations begins on the date of the injury’s occurrence.
The purpose of these types of laws is to protect citizens from wrongful lawsuits. For example, if a statute of limitations were not in place, someone could bring a lawsuit against you for an injury that happened 50 years ago, complaining that their current ailments are a result of an accident you caused in 1962! Thus, eliminating the opportunity for an endless onslaught of crazy lawsuits is one of the primary purposes of the statute of limitations as applied to personal injury cases.
While the statute of limitations seems like a simple concept, it is not always as straightforward as it seems. Here’s why:
- Varying Time Periods: The time period covered by the statute of limitations is different for each state and every singular offense. In the U.S., the time period varies from 1 year in Tennessee and Kentucky, to 10 years in The District of Columbia. However, 2-3 years is generally the rule of thumb for a personal injury. What is the statute of limitations for your state? Find out here.
- The Discovery Rule: If you discover a medical injury outside the statute of limitations, the discovery rule may apply and extend the period that you are able to collect damages. Cases involving exposure to toxic substances, such as asbestos, are typically privy to the discovery rule. In such cases, an injured victim normally does not discover symptoms of the injury until well after the damaging exposure occurred. This rule is clearly not applicable in situations involving motor vehicle collisions and other accidents, where injuries are generally immediately apparent.
- Tolling the Statute of Limitations: Tolling benefits the victim by pausing the time period on a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations can be suspended for a period of time, and then begin to run again. Tolling may happen when the defendant is a minor, is out of the state, in prison, or is insane. When the reason for the tolling ends (like if the minor turns 18, or the defendant returns to Illinois or is released from prison, or the defendant is somehow reclassified as ‘sane’), the statute of limitations begins to run again.
- Special Exemptions: As mentioned directly above in ‘tolling’ there are exemptions that apply in measuring the statute of limitations. For instance, when a child is injured, the time does not begin to run for an injury until the child reaches 18 years of age. Special rules can also apply to people who are mentally impaired or who leave the state for reasons such as military duty.
Precisely because these exceptions to the statute of limitations exist, injured parties should seek the knowledge and expertise of a personal injury attorney. Personal injury lawyers are well versed in the statute of limitations for various injury cases in their state, as well as potential exceptions. If you are wondering, ‘what is the statute of limitations for my injury?’, it is important to contact legal representation as close to the date of the injury or offense as possible. This will ensure that you are able to begin legal proceedings well within the timeline for your particular situation.