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Time Limits to Bring a Case: The "Statute of Limitations"

Under a legal rule known as the "statute of limitations," any lawsuit arising from an accident or injury must be filed within a certain time limit or the injured person's legal claim will be barred and his or her right to sue will be lost forever. Every state has enacted its own statute of limitations, requiring any personal injury suit be filed in court within a set time after the incident or injury. The specific limit prescribed by each state ranges from one year (in Kentucky and Tennessee) to six years (in Maine and North Dakota).

In some states, the type of personal injury claim may also affect the time limit. For example, certain defamation cases and claims involving minors (persons under age 18) may be granted longer time limits, while medical malpractice statutes of limitations may grant shorter time limits. Typically, the statute of limitations in a lawsuit for injuries to a minor does not begin to run until he or she reaches the age of 18. For example, suppose Pat is injured in a car accident on his 17th birthday. In a state that has a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, Pat will have three years to file suit for injuries suffered in that accident.

The "Discovery of Harm" Rule

While a statute of limitations may declare that a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within a certain amount of time after an accident or injury, that time period usually does not begin to run until the moment when the person filing suit knew (or should reasonably have known) that they had suffered harm, and the nature of that harm. An example of this "discovery of harm" rule is a medical malpractice claim in which a surgeon mistakenly left a temporary bandage in the abdomen of a patient, but the error was not discovered until years later, during another surgical procedure. In such a case, the patient had no reason to know of what happened, and this lack of knowledge could not be called unreasonable under the circumstances. Most likely, the statute of limitations would not begin to run until the day on which the first surgeon's mistake was "discovered" by the patient, rather than from the day on which the first surgeon actually made the mistake.

Remember that the delay in discovery must be one that is reasonable under the circumstances. So, if the patient in the above example was experiencing abdominal pain after the first surgery but refused to seek medical treatment for a number of years, his or her lawsuit may very well be barred by the statute of limitations. Also, the "discovery of harm" rule will almost never arise in the most common types of injury claims -- those after car accidents and slip and fall incidents. This is because such occurrences usually leave nothing to "discover" in terms of the source and nature of any harm suffered.

The Statute of Limitations in Your State

As mentioned above, every state has enacted its own statute of limitations, requiring any personal injury suit be filed in court within a set time after the incident or injury. The specific limit prescribed by each state is identified in the chart below, along with a link to the relevant state law.

(Note: State laws are frequently revised from year-to-year, so it is important to speak with an attorney to understand how your state's current laws will apply in your case, especially in areas as critical as the statute of limitations. Remember also that special time-limit rules exist for injury claims against the government.)

State

Statute of
Limitations

State Law

Alabama 2 years Ala. Code Sec. 6-2-38
Arkansas 2 years Alaska Stat. Sec. 9.10.070
Arizona 2 years Ariz. Rev. Stat. Sec. 12-542
Arkansas 2 years Ark. Stat. Sec. 16-114-203
California 2 years Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. Sec. 335.1
Colorado 2 years Colo. Rev. Stat. Sec. 13-80-102
Connecticut 2 years Conn. Gen. State. Sec. 52-584
Delaware 2 years Del. Code Ann. Title 10, Sec. 8119
District of Columbia (D.C.) 3 years D.C. Code Ann. Sec. 12-301
Florida 4 years Fla. Stat. Ann. Sec. 95.11
Georgia 2 years Ga. Code Ann. Sec. 9-3-33
Hawaii 2 years Haw. Rev. Stat. Sec. 657.7
Idaho 2 years Idaho Code Sec. 5-219
Illinois 2 years Ill. Ann. State. Ch. 735, Art. 5, Sec. 13-202
Indiana 2 years Ind. Code Ann. Sec. 34-11-2-4
Iowa 2 years Iowa Code Ann. Sec. 614.1
Kansas 2 years Kan. Stat. Ann. Sec. 60-513
Kentucky 1 year Ky. Rev. Stat. Sec. 413.140
Louisiana 1 year La. Civ. Code Ann. Art. 3492
Maine 6 years Maine Rev. Stat. Ann. Title 14, Ch. 205, Sec. 752
Maryland 3 years Md. Ann. Code Sec. 5-101
Massachusetts 3 years Mass. Gen. Laws, Art. 260, Secs. 2A, 4
Michigan 3 years Mich. Comp Laws Sec. 600.5805(9)
Minnesota 2 years Minn. Stat. Ann. Sec. 541.05, 541.07
Mississippi 3 years Miss. Code Ann. Sec. 15-1-49
Missouri 5 years Missouri Ann. Stat. Title 35, Sec. 516.120
Montana 3 years Mont. Code Ann. Sec. 27-2-204, 27-2-207
Nebraska 4 years Neb. Rev. Stat. Sec. 25-207
Nevada 2 years Nev. Rev. Stat. Sec 11.190
New Hampshire 3 years N.H. Rev. State. Sec. 508.4
New Jersey 2 years N.J. Stat. Ann. Sec. 2A:14-2
New Mexico 3 years N.M. Stat. Ann. Sec. 37-1-8
New York 3 years N.Y. Civ. Prac. R. Sec. 214
North Carolina 3 years N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 1-52
North Dakota 6 years (2 in wrongful death) N.D. Cent. Code Sec. 28-01-16, 28-01-18
Ohio 2 years Ohio Rev. Code Sec. 2305.10
Oklahoma 2 years Okla. Stat. Ann. Title 12, Sec. 95
Oregon 2 years Ore. Rev. Stat. Sec. 12.110
Pennsylvania 2 years 42 Pa. Con. Stat. Sec. 5524
Rhode Island 3 years R.I. Gen. Laws Sec. 9-1-14
South Carolina 3 years S.C. Code Ann. Sec. 15-3-530
South Dakota 3 years S.D. Comp. Laws Ann. Sec. 15-2-14
Tennessee 1 year Tenn. Code Ann. Sec. 28-3-104
Texas 2 years Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Sec. 16.003
Utah 4 years Utah Code Ann. Sec. 78-12-28
Vermont 3 years Vt. Stat. Ann. Title 12, Sec. 512
Virginia 2 years Va. Code Sec. 8.01-243
Washington 3 years Wa. Rev. Code Ann. Sec. 4.16.080
West Virginia 2 years W. Va. Code Sec. 55-2-12
Wisconsin 3 years Wisc. Stat. Ann. Sec. 893.54
Wyoming 4 years Wy. Stat. Ann. Sec. 1-3-105
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