Every personal injury case comes with its own ticking clock, counting down the time left to make a claim for damages. Each state has its own statute of limitations controlling when the clock begins and how much time you have left before you can no longer file a lawsuit. Allowing the clock to expire can be fatal to your right to receive compensation and may allow the party whose fault caused you to be injured to avoid paying. The amount of time you have and when the clock starts ticking may depend upon how your injuries occurred.
Why do states impose time limits on lawsuits?
Every state has its own laws establishing statutes of limitations in personal injury cases. A statute of limitations sets a time limit on how long a plaintiff, the person injured, can be compensated for incurring damages as a result of the negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct of another party. Plaintiffs who delay filing their claim for compensation may be barred from doing so by not heeding the statute of limitations.
It may not seem fair to prevent a person with serious, debilitating injuries suffered in a car accident from suing a driver whose negligence caused a collision, but statutes of limitations actually promote fairness. An extended delay in filing a personal injury claim may cause the following:
- Evidence needed to prove the claim or to prove a defense available to the other party may be lost or compromised.
- A party may be impaired in their ability to locate and interview witnesses.
- Recollection of the facts of an accident as recalled by witnesses may be affected by time.
- Delays may be used by a plaintiff to gain an unfair advantage by preventing a party who may not be aware of the claim from conducting a proper investigation.
The statue of limitations may actually benefit an injured party in certain types of personal injury cases. Time to commence a lawsuit usually begins to run from the date of the incident that caused the injuries, but some types of cases, such as medical malpractice, may involve injuries that a person may not discover right away. The right to sue and not be barred by the statute of limitations can be protected by laws delaying the clock from starting until the date of discovery of the claim.
How does a statute of limitations work?
States have different statutes of limitations depending upon how a claim arose. For example, the Oregon statute of limitations to sue for assault, battery, and other personal injuries is two years from the date of the incident. If you are injured in a car accident, you have two years within which to sue the driver at fault in causing it. However, you have six years from the accident to sue to recover compensation for the damage to your vehicle.
You also have two years to begin a lawsuit against doctors or other health care professionals for injuries suffered as a result of negligent treatment or care. The two years starts from the date that you first discover the injury, but your discovery time is limited. You must become aware of the injury within five years from the date of treatment, omission, or operation, or you may lose the right to sue.
Delays jeopardize your right to recover damages
Two years can pass by in a hurry, and missing a deadline to file a lawsuit can be fatal to your claim for compensation. A claim filed after the statute of limitations expires may be dismissed by a judge at the request of the other party. An exception exists for claims by injured children.
Special rules apply for the statute of limitations for children injured through the negligence of another party. Laws offer them a certain amount of protection from the effects of the statute of limitations by delaying the running of the time to file a lawsuit.
In Oregon, for instance, the law tolls the statute of limitations when the injured party is younger than 18 years of age. A lawsuit must be commenced within a year of the child reaching 18 years of age or five years from the date that the claim arose, whichever first occurs.
Protect your rights by consulting with an attorney
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries through the wrongful conduct of another party, do not delay. Retaining the services of a Bend personal injury attorney can give you the peace of mind of knowing that your rights are protected.