What is a statute of limitations?
A statute of limitations is the amount of time that a person has to file a lawsuit. This time restriction is a limit that the court imposes based on where the person lives who initiates the lawsuit. If the statute of limitations expires, the person can never bring a lawsuit against the other party regardless of the severity of their damages.
Civil and Criminal Cases
Civil as well as criminal cases may have a statute of limitations, depending on the crime or complaint. The statute of limitations that applies in a particular situation also depends on the laws of that state. For example, if a case is a medical malpractice case and the statute of limitations is two years in that state, the plaintiff has two years to start the lawsuit process or it’s barred forever. Statutes of limitations can vary by state but the only one that matters is the jurisdiction where the person brings the case.
Do all cases have the same statute of limitations?
Some types of cases have a short statute of limitations and others have no statute of limitations at all. In family law cases, a person may have as little as a few months to claim that the other parent violated a custody agreement. In many personal injury cases, the statute of limitations is a few years.
Criminal cases usually have longer time limitations than civil cases. Even for a misdemeanor case, the statute of limitations is usually several years. For very serious offenses such as homicide, most states don’t have any time limitation.
Why have a statute of limitations?
The passage of time may make it difficult to preserve a defense or mount a counterclaim. As the years pass, witnesses may become unavailable as they move away or die. Paperwork and critical information gets lost. Lawmakers say that after a certain period of time, it isn’t fair to make a person defend something that happened a long time ago. They say that when a person has a valid case, they should bring it promptly.
In some cases, the statute of limitations doesn’t begin until a person knows or should know that they have a claim. If a person obviously knows that they have a case as soon as an event occurs, the statute of limitations begins the same day. An example of this is a person who suffers obvious injuries in a car crash. However, if it’s not something that the person discovers until later, their period to file a claim might not start until the discovery. Workplace illnesses or diseases may not present symptoms until years after the initial exposure. Mesothelioma, caused by asbestos exposure, is a good example of this.
A Person Can File the Case on the Very Last Day
Once a person files their case in court before the deadline, they’ve met the requirements of the statute of limitations. That is, the other side can’t stall the case once it’s been filed in order to claim that too much time has passed. Rather, filing the case before the deadline makes it valid even if the case takes years to litigate. There are exceptions to this, and a good personal injury lawyer Milwaukee, WI counts on can provide you with additional information specific to your case.
What are the options if the statute of limitations has passed?
If there’s any question about whether or not the statute of limitations has passed, the defendant can bring a motion to the court to address the issue. This is usually called a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary disposition. Then, it’s up to the judge to decide if the statute of limitations deadline has passed for the case. If it has, the case ends and it’s dismissed permanently.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Hickey & Turim LLP for their insight into personal injury practice.