The legal system is always trying to balance the interests of the plaintiffs and the defendants. The system strives to be fair to both, allowing plaintiffs to have their day in court while protecting defendants from excessive litigation. One way the law aims to be equitable to defendants is by imposing a time limit for plaintiffs to file their lawsuits. This is known as the statute of limitations.
While the statute of limitations is always an important consideration in a civil claim, it is not the only factor determining how long you should wait to claim your injuries. You should never delay in beginning the legal process so you can obtain the necessary compensation sooner. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today to discuss your claim and how to proceed
How the Statute of Limitations Works in a Personal Injury Case
The statute of limitations is an actual law on the books of each state that sets deadlines for personal injury lawsuits. A state may have several statutes of limitations depending on the cause of action. For example, there may be a general statute of limitations for a personal injury case, while there may be other deadlines for medical malpractice and wrongful death actions.
Statutes of limitations are for a certain period after you knew or should have known about your injury. If you missed the statute of limitations, there are no do-overs. It is a hard and fast deadline, and missing it by even a day is enough to end your chances of getting financial compensation, with almost no ifs, ands, or buts. Limited exceptions apply, and you should not count on them.
Not having an attorney or not knowing the law is not an excuse the court will entertain when dismissing your case. Courts will place the burden on you to show why an exception should apply that should still allow you to file a case if you have missed the statute of limitations.
The statute of limitations exists to be fair to defendants in two major ways:
- It prevents them from being perennially liable for something that happened in the distant past.
- It keeps them from being sued when they may no longer have evidence that can help their own case because of the passage of time.
The Beginning Date for the Statute of Limitations Is Not Always Certain
In many cases, it is very apparent at the outset when the statute of limitations begins to run. When you have a certain traumatic event, such as a car accident or a slip and fall, you may immediately know that you suffered an injury at the scene. In that event, the statute of limitations will begin to run immediately.
It gets more challenging when you do not immediately know that you have suffered an injury. For example, you may have suffered Whiplash or internal injuries in a car accident. It can take weeks or months to realize that you have actually suffered an injury. Here, there may be an argument about when the statute of limitations should begin.
Usually, the answer will be that the clock starts ticking at the point where you should have known that you had suffered an injury. Often, this is when you first notice symptoms of car accident injuries. A reasonable person may feel pain in their neck or experience other symptoms and know they need to see a doctor.
Applying the statute of limitations may not even be straightforward in a wrongful death case. While the date that someone died is certain, the family may not know that the death happened due to someone else’s wrongful actions until months after their loved one passed away.
Courts Will Not Entertain a Case When You Miss the Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is a jurisdictional issue for each court. The court only has jurisdiction over your case for a certain time. Once that time passes, they no longer have jurisdiction to hear your case. It is as if your cause of action completely disappears and ceases to exist. The court will not hear your case on the merits. Instead, the court will dismiss your case because it does not have the legal ability to even hear it. Courts take their jurisdiction very seriously, and they will not hear cases unnecessarily.
A plaintiff who misses the statute of limitations will not have the ability to get their day in court. Once the defendant files an answer to the case, they will look for whatever reason they can file a motion to dismiss the case, either in part or in its entirety. Often, the motion to dismiss comes from the fact that the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case. If the motion to dismiss is not for failure to state a claim or lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the defendant may seek to dismiss the case because the plaintiff has missed the statute of limitations. The defendant may even argue multiple reasons why a judge should dismiss a case.
Plaintiffs Will Rarely Miss a Deadline Because They Forgot
In most cases, there is some type of legal wrinkle that the court must consider in a motion to dismiss because of the statute of limitations. It will be exceedingly rare for a plaintiff to simply miss the deadline. In many cases, the legal issue related to the statute of limitations comes from the fact that the plaintiff did not learn of the harm immediately. Remember that the clock begins to run when the plaintiff knows or should have known of their injury.
For example, the statute of limitations often comes into play in product liability lawsuits. One common example is when a patient has been sickened by defective medication. Often, they do not begin to feel symptoms until years after regularly taking medication. The defendant does not hesitate to file a motion to dismiss the case because of the statute of limitations. They argue that the plaintiff should have filed the lawsuit much sooner. However, many plaintiffs do not even realize they have symptoms until years later.
In other cases, there was no way for the plaintiff to know that they had suffered an injury because the defendant kept them from learning. These facts are actually one of the few exceptions to the statute of limitations. When the defendant took active steps to conceal the potential harm, the plaintiff should not face the consequences of missing the deadline.
You Should Still Not Rush Your Case in Panic Over a Deadline
Some personal injury lawyers will advise you to rush filing your claim, so you will not miss the statute of limitations. That is not always the best advice. While you should keep an eye on the time clock, you should also take all the time necessary to prepare a compelling claim.
You must put your best foot possible in front of the insurance company, and rushing your claim can result in a weak one that gets rejected. Although you must be conscious of deadlines, you must also take the time to get things right. If you have begun work on your case early, the law gives you plenty of time to file your case in court. There is no reason to panic because of the statutorily imposed deadline.
An experienced attorney will help you by keeping an eye on the clock. They are aware of the deadlines in your case, and they will not let you miss them. On your own, you may be more vulnerable to missing a deadline because you do not know when you need to file a claim.
You Should Begin Work on Your Claim Shortly After the Accident
In reality, you should have already started your claim well before the statute of limitations. The first step in beginning the legal process is to contact an attorney. They will then take the time necessary to investigate the circumstances behind your accident, gathering the evidence you need to prove that someone else should be held legally responsible. At the same time, you are seeing the doctors necessary to treat your injury and ensuring that you follow their recommendations.
At some point, you will reach the point of maximum medical improvement, where additional treatment will not improve your condition. You do not want to approach the insurance company or file a lawsuit until you have the necessary evidence and you reach the point of maximum medical improvement. However, the sooner you begin to do the work of finding a lawyer, the quicker you can begin the legal process.
When you have an attorney, you will not cut it close to the statute of limitations merely because you did not take any steps to advance your claim. During this time, your lawyer may negotiate with the insurance company to obtain the right financial compensation. It can take months, or even years, to learn whether you and the insurance company can reach a settlement agreement. The insurance company might take months to even respond to your initial claim. If they do not deny your claim, they will try to drag out their response to increase the pressure on you and gain more leverage.
You can have many proposals and counter-proposals as part of your back and forth with the insurance company. At some point, you may realize that you will not get on the same page. With one eye on the clock, you may decide that filing a lawsuit is your strongest legal alternative to get the most financial compensation. Many lawsuits get filed just before the statute of limitation expires because attorneys have been negotiating with the insurance company.
It is usually better to reach a settlement agreement than to go to court because there is a chance that you will get your money more quickly. Many plaintiffs only decide to file a lawsuit when they realize that the settlement process may reach a dead end. For their part, the insurance company is always trying to stretch out the clock, not because they are trying to make you miss the statute of limitations, but because more desperate plaintiffs are more likely to accept a low offer.
What You Can Do After a Personal Injury
You need to do two things after an accident to avoid being in a situation where you may have legal issues because of the statute of limitations. The first thing is to see the necessary medical specialists to diagnose and treat your injuries.
Many defendants argue that the plaintiff should have known that they suffered an injury weeks or months before the time when they actually established that they suffered an injury. When you delay seeing a doctor, it gives the defendant an opening to challenge you in court. You should expect the defendant to do everything they can to move up the date when the time clock begins to run.
You should also contact an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after your accident. Let the lawyer keep an eye on the clock and handle the details of your case. You run less risk of missing key deadlines and doing anything that can compromise your own legal rights.
Your lawyer will immediately go to work on your case and advise you about the best time to file your claim. Contacting an attorney early allows you to maximize your use of legal strategy. Having your back up against the wall because you have delayed the legal process may increase the insurance company’s leverage.
You also do not want to be in the position of scrambling to put together a complaint or claim with limited time and with much of the evidence supporting it permanently lost to you. It costs you nothing to speak with an attorney at an initial consultation, so money should not be a worry that gets in the way of contacting an attorney. If you cannot begin the legal process on your own, have a trusted family member contact a Floriday injury attorney to get the ball rolling for you.