The Basic Meaning of Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a time limit set on your legal rights. Different statute of limitations laws exist for different claim types, and these laws also vary by state.

Different Types of Cases and Their Limitations

The broad definition of statute of limitations is that they are a set of laws that dictate a legal term for the time limit in which you have to leverage your legal rights. The amount of time you have to take legal action will depend on the type of claim you’re filing. Specific federal statutes dictate the statute of limitations on federal crimes and certain governmental entity claims. Here are a few of the different types of limitations on various cases on the federal level:

  • Homicide: No statute of limitations.
  • War crimes, crimes against humanity: No statute of limitations.
  • Claims against the government: Between 6 months and 1 year depending on the case type.

If you have questions about how long you have to seek out a legal claim after an incident, then a lawyer can help guide you to the right statutes that outline your limitations.

State-Specific Statute of Limitations

While many federal offenses and some crimes have set statutes of limitations, personal injury cases and civil lawsuit situations are usually dictated by state-specific limitations, which can vary widely state by state. For instance, here’s an overview of the different time limits for personal injury claims in a few different states that highlight how different state laws can be:

  • Tennessee: up to one year from the accident date;
  • Florida: up to two years;
  • Maryland: up to three years;
  • Nebraska: up to four years;
  • Missouri: up to five years;
  • Maine: up to six years.

When you’re pursuing cases involving property damage, oral and written contracts, professional malpractice, libel and slander, or fraud and trespass, you should look up your state’s specific laws to determine how long you have to pursue legal action. These laws are very different depending on the region you’re in and the type of case you’re facing.

Crimes also have varying statute of limitations based on where you live. In general, felonies have a longer statute of limitations, while misdemeanors need to be prosecuted within a few years of the incident happening.

Exceptions and Extensions in Statute of Limitations

Suppose you were harmed in an accident but didn’t pursue compensation right away or you experienced a unique circumstance. In that case, you might wonder ” What’s the statute of limitations under unique circumstances?” Are there any exceptions or extensions?

Since the statute of limitations refers to a specific time limit, there are very few exceptions or extensions allotted under the law. There are a few situations where it can happen, though, and we’ll outline those below.

The Accident Happened When You Were a Minor

If you experienced the accident or incident when you were a minor, then the legal statute of limitations is temporarily paused until you reach 18 years old. This process is called tolling the statute. Immediately on the person’s 18th birthday, the actual statute of limitations will begin. The individual will have until their 20th birthday to seek legal action.

You Weren’t Reasonably Aware of the Injury Until Later

Another unique situation that could result in the statute of limitations being extended is when the discovery of the injury happens at a date later than the original incident occurred. For instance, if you were hurt as a result of medical malpractice but weren’t aware of the injury until years later when you switched providers, then your statute of limitations will not be applied retroactively. Your statute of limitations will begin upon the date that the injury was or should’ve reasonably been discovered.

The Defendant Committed Fraud

In some rare cases, your statute of limitations will get extended if the defendant committed fraud. Fraudulent concealment, for instance, that caused a material fact to go undiscovered could cause a court to extend the statute of limitations while the other party considers their options.

Impact of Statute of Limitations on Legal Proceedings

Statute of limitation laws are in place for a very important reason. Without any type of time limit on the ability to pursue a lawsuit, it’s conceivable that the justice system could be used to pursue frivolous lawsuits that are difficult to prove due to the passage of time, a loss of physical evidence, the physical recovery of injuries, and more. That said, legal liability does have a set time limit.

If you let the statute of limitations expire, then you will forfeit your legal right to seek compensation through a legal claim. Even if you attempt to leverage your rights, you will be unsuccessful, and your claim will be denied.

Glossary References

Ray Kermani
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