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What is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations is a law that establishes the maximum amount of time after an event within which you may file a lawsuit. When the time specified in a statute of limitations passes, a claim might no longer be filed or, if filed, may be subject to dismissal if one or more of the parties you’ve sued raises the defense that your claim is time-barred as having been filed after the statutory limitations period.

The applicable statute of limitations varies from state to state and by the type of lawsuit you wish to bring. The intention of these limitations on the time allotted for filing is to facilitate resolution within a “reasonable” length of time. What constitutes a “reasonable” length of time, however, varies from state to state. Without a time limit, too much time could pass after the incident and evidence would begin to “go bad.” Physical evidence could literally go bad, become lost or misplaced, or be thrown out. Non-physical evidence, such as testimony, is more likely to be altered or forgotten with the passing of time.

Are there other time limits?

Simply put, yes. There may be limits, other than a statute of limitations, to filing a lawsuit. For instance, some states have an associated statute of repose that, like a statute of limitations, cuts off legal rights if they are not acted on by a specified deadline. Further, there are other deadlines and notice requirements that may apply to your potential case depending on, again, applicable state laws and the type of case you wish to bring.

Are there any exceptions?

Some states allow for tolling provisions and/or exclusions to the filing deadlines set by statutes of limitations in certain situations. For example, a common tolling provision allows for the statute of limitations for a minor’s claim to be tolled until the child reaches the age of majority. However, not all states and/or causes of action allow for such tolling.

When should I call a lawyer?

As soon as you think you may have a case. The time limits for and deadlines related to filing a lawsuit can be complicated. It is vital that you promptly contact a reputable lawyer to discuss your potential case as soon as you realize you may have a possible cause of action. This will allow you and your lawyer time to fully discuss and investigate your possible case and, if appropriate, take legal action.