If you have the need to pursue a lawsuit, you do not have an indefinite period of time to sue. An important question you need to ask yourself if you feel you need to pursue a lawsuit is, how long do you have to sue someone?
There is a legal doctrine that governs how long you have to sue someone. The time period in which you can file a lawsuit generally is known as the statute of limitations.
General Information on the Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations governs timeframes for two types of cases: civil and criminal.
- Criminal Cases
When it comes to the statute of limitations and criminal cases, the law sets forth a specific deadline by which criminal charges must be filed against a person thought to have committed a crime. If the deadline established for a particular crime in the statute of limitations is missed, charges cannot be brought.
- Civil Cases
The statute of limitations works in a similar way in civil cases. The statute of limitations establishes the specific time period during which a lawsuit can be filed against a party alleged to have caused some type of injury. If the deadline is missed, you, or any other person who desires to pursue a lawsuit, is forever precluded from suing in a particular situation.
Specific Requirements of the Statute of Limitations in Civil Cases
There is not one comprehensive statute of limitations for all civil lawsuits. Rather, every state in the United States establishes its own laws regarding different statutes of limitations. The federal government also establishes statutes of limitations for lawsuits tried in U.S. District Courts.
In addition to jurisdictional considerations associated with the statute of limitations in civil lawsuits, there are specific deadlines established for specific types of cases. For example, the statutes of limitations in a particular state establish specific deadlines for these types of lawsuits:
- Personal injury
- Wrongful death
- Breach of contract
What Triggers the Statute of Limitations?
As a general rule, the statute of limitations starts running from the date a civil injury or wrong occurred. For example, if a person suffers personal injuries as the result of a car accident, the statute of limitations begins from the date of the collision in question.
One exception to the statute of limitations starting to run on the date of an accident involves a situation in which the party seeking to sue initially did not know he or she had sustained an injury. For example, if a surgeon made a mistake during a surgical procedure, the patient may not immediately be aware of the issue. The statute of limitations starts to run when the individual becomes aware of the issue.
There is a caveat to this exception regarding the triggering of the statute of limitations. If a person reasonably should have known of an injury by a certain date, the statute of limitations starts from that date. This is the case even if the individual in question lacks actual knowledge of the injury or issue.
Retaining Legal Counsel
The various laws governing the statute of limitations, and the timeframe within which you can file a lawsuit underscores the need to retain capable, experienced legal representation. By taking a proactive stance in retaining a personal injury lawyer Phoenix AZ relies on, you place yourself in the best possible position to ensure that your lawsuit is filed in court within the timeframe mandated by applicable law.
The first step in retaining legal representation when you want to pursue a lawsuit is scheduling an initial consultation. Typically, an personal injury does not charge a fee for an initial consultation to discuss a potential lawsuit. For this reason, you should seek legal counsel immediately to minimize the risk of filing a suit after the statute of limitations has expired.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Lorona Mead for their insight into statute of limitations and personal injury practice.