If you were recently involved in an auto accident and have yet to receive fair compensation, you might be thinking you have all the time in the world to sue the other party for your damages. Unfortunately, the clock for filing a lawsuit starts ticking the moment after your auto accident, and, if you're not careful, time can run out before you realize it. The following explains why there's a time limit for personal injury lawsuits and the various factors that could influence those limits.
Understanding the Statute of Limitations
You might have heard about the statute of limitations from your favorite crime drama, but it's not just limited to the criminal side of the legal system. The statute of limitations also applies to civil actions, including personal injury lawsuits stemming from auto accidents.
There's a good reason why the statute of limitations exists in the first place. As time passes, so does a person's recollection of the events surrounding the case in question. Memories get foggier and less reliable as time goes on, making it less likely for the presiding judge to hear reliable testimony. Witnesses can also move away or die, making it much harder to ensure a fair hearing without having all of the evidence present.
In short, the longer you take to file your auto accident lawsuit, the less likely you'll be to see it succeed. Also keep in mind that, in most states, the clock starts ticking on the day of the accident.
Time Limits Can Vary by State
Outside of the federal courts, there's no uniform time limit for civil lawsuits. Each state is responsible for setting its own deadline for filing a lawsuit. The vast majority of US states have their deadlines set for 2 years after the day of the accident or injury. Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee gives residents only a year to file a personal injury lawsuit, while Maine and North Dakota offer 6-year statutes of limitations for personal injury lawsuits.
Since the deadline can vary from state to state, it's important to check your state statutes prior to initiating legal action. If you were injured while out of state, you may want to consult your personal injury attorney and see if the statutes for the state you were injured in apply in your case.
Different Lawsuit Types Can Influence the Statutes
It's not just the state you live in that can determine the amount of time you have to file an auto accident lawsuit. The type of lawsuit that's being brought before the court can also be an influencing factor, since different statutes could apply. For example, a civil lawsuit involving minor personal injury or property damage may have a different statute of limitations than a lawsuit involving a wrongful death. Personal injury lawsuits involving product liability against the auto manufacturer may also have different time limits than ordinary civil suits.
Statutes Can Be Tolled
To prevent a personal injury lawsuit from being dismissed for untimeliness, a plaintiff can request a motion for the statute of limitations to be tolled. If granted, such a motion would essentially extend the amount of time the plaintiff has to properly file the lawsuit.
Tolling provisions are commonly enforced if the plaintiff has a disability that legally prevents that person from initiating a legal action on their own. In such cases, the statute of limitations won't resume until the disability has been resolved. If there are multiple disabilities involved, most courts won't lift the toll until all of the disabilities have been resolved.
You won't be able to have the statute of limitations tolled if you were unaware of the time limit and attempted to file suit at the last minute. Also keep in mind that being absent from the state where the accident occurred, whether you're out of town or a nonresident, won't toll the statute of limitations unless there's a provision that allows for it. Work with a personal injury attorney for more help and advice.