When determining whether you can bring a lawsuit for personal injury or the wrongful death of a loved one, a vital consideration is the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is defined as
“any law that bars claims after a certain period of time passes after an injury. The period of time varies depending on the jurisdiction and the type of claim. Statutes of limitations exist for both civil and criminal causes of action, and begin to run from the date of the injury, or the date it was discovered, or the date on which it would have been discovered with reasonable efforts. Many statutes of limitations are actual legislative statutes, while others may come from judicial common law.”
For the most part, statutes of limitations governing personal injury and wrongful death claims are controlled by state law. Therefore, if you attempt to bring a lawsuit for personal injury or wrongful death, it is important to understand two key aspects of your claim: (1) which state(s) you can bring a lawsuit in; and (2) the state’s statute of limitations.
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the general rules regarding statutes of limitations for each state. The table below generally addresses statutes of limitations for personal injury and wrongful death claims resulting from negligence and products liability claims. Bear in mind that each state has specific nuances – established through statutes and through common law – that may affect a certain statute of limitations based on the type of injury, the type of act or omission that caused the injury or death, and specific areas of law. For instance, some states have specific rules governing medical malpractice claims, which are not addressed in this article.
The Discovery Rule
Aside from the general statute of limitations for a particular state, an important consideration in determining the length of time you are given to file a personal injury or wrongful death claim is whether that state employs the “discovery rule.” The discovery rule is a general term that encompasses scenarios in which a person may not have known they were injured by the acts/omissions of another until after the statute of limitations has expired. For example, an industrial worker exposed to a hazardous substance while on a jobsite may not have been aware that his injuries appearing years later were caused by the exposure. Another example of this would be when an individual develops ailments/diseases after ingesting a product not known to be dangerous, and is unaware that his injuries were caused by that certain product until after the statute of limitations expires. In some states, the clock to file a lawsuit may not start ticking until this information was known or reasonably should have been known. Again, each state has specific rules, and you should contact an attorney to evaluate the specific circumstances of your claims.
The following table illustrates for each state: (1) the general rule for time to bring a personal injury lawsuit; (2) whether that state employs the discovery rule; and (3) the general rule for time to bring a wrongful death lawsuit (with mention of that state’s lack of discovery rule for wrongful death):
Again, it is important to consult an attorney to evaluate the specifics of your injuries and potential claims. The table above is a general guideline to help you understand the time period you have to take action in the event of injury or the death of a loved one.
Other important considerations include:
Generally, the fraudulent concealment rule exists to allow injured persons to bring claims against wrongdoers who specifically hid the dangers of their actions to that person or the public. In most states that employ the fraudulent concealment rule, the clock for an injured party to bring a claim will not start ticking until the injured party knows or should have known that the wrongdoer’s actions were causing his injury. This can occur, for example, when a company specifically withholds facts or makes misrepresentations (i.e., “conceals”) to the public claiming that the product they are selling is safe, when in fact there is evidence that the company knew about the dangers. Most states require that injured parties discover the concealment through reasonable diligence and can prove that they relied on the concealment to their detriment. The fraudulent concealment rule can act to “toll” – or stop or delay – the running of the statute of limitations. Again, these rules vary greatly from state to state and you should consult a lawyer to evaluate the specific circumstances of your potential claim.
Most states allow for the tolling of statutes of limitations when injuries/death befall a minor. The rules for each state vary greatly, but minor tolling rules generally allow a minor to start the clock on the statute of limitations for an injury after they reach the age of majority. Again, these rules vary greatly from state to state and you should consult a lawyer to evaluate the specific circumstances of your potential claim.
In conclusion – the most important thing you can do if you or a loved one are injured or killed due to the fault of another is to act quickly. Consult a personal injury lawyer immediately to determine which state(s) you can bring your claim in, how the rules of that state may affect your legal rights, and what strategies you will need to utilize in order to preserve your opportunity to bring a lawsuit.