Understanding the tolling of the statute of limitations is crucial in personal injury cases, such as car accidents or medical malpractice. It can mean the difference between getting compensation or not.
An insurance company or defendant may inform a victim that the statute has expired. However, if the statute has been tolled, the victim may still have time to file a lawsuit.
Statute of Limitations
Each state has its own set of time limits within which a case must be handled in order to avoid being barred from taking legal action. These time limits are known as the statutes of limitations. Different time limits apply to personal injury cases and other types of cases, such as criminal or contract cases. Certain legal action must be taken within this deadline. In criminal cases, this is when criminal information or an indictment must be obtained. In civil cases, this is when a lawsuit is filed.
Personal injury cases may be subject to different types of statutes of limitations. For example, a case involving medical malpractice may have a different time limit than one involving slip and falls. Product liability cases may be treated differently from other types of personal injuries cases.
The Statute of Limitations’ Effect
If the statute of limitations is exceeded, the plaintiff cannot bring the case forward. In other words, even if the plaintiff has proven a personal injury claim, not filing the lawsuit within the applicable time will prevent them from recovering.
Sometimes, the statute of limitations may be extended or tolled. During the toll, the statute of limitations is legally suspended. This stops the clock for a certain period of time and prolongs the amount of time a plaintiff has to bring up a case. Discovery of Harm is one of the numerous reasons why the statute of limitations could toll or be suspended.
A common principle in personal injuries cases is that the plaintiff should be allowed to present a case if it is impossible for him or her to reasonably determine that a cause of action arose past the statute of limitations’ expiration date. After the plaintiff has learned of the actual harm, or should reasonably have known about it, the discovery of harm rule can be used to extend the statute of limitations. For example, if the plaintiff was injured during a procedure and the surgeon left a sponge in his body that he discovered three years later, the statute may not start until the plaintiff has actually learned about the error and its consequences.
Another equitable principle that can be applied to the tolling of the statutes of limitations is fraudulent concealment. Fraudulent concealment occurs when a defendant uses misleading, deceptive, or contrived actions to hide the plaintiff’s recognition of a cause of action. In order to make the victim unaware of the cause of action, a defendant may lie to the victim or falsify documents. A defendant must affirm that fraudulent concealment was done. However, the defendant may have an affirmative defense against the victim if he or she is able to prove that the cause of action was still possible to discover if the plaintiff had exercised due diligence.
Disability is another reason the statute of limitations could be suspended. In this context, disability refers to a reason why a person is unable to bring forth a cause for action. For example, a victim might be a minor, and therefore may not be allowed to bring forward a case until he or she is an adult. Another potential disability is if a person has a medical condition, which renders them unable to bring forward a cause for action. Finally, a person might have filed bankruptcy, and may not be eligible to recover. These cases may mean that the victim’s statute of limitations can not start until the disability has been removed. For example, if there is a 3-year statute of limitations and a 15 year old victim sustains an injury, the statute of limitations may expire when the victim turns 21.