After being seriously injured in an accident, you’re justifiably stressed and overwhelmed with the uncertainty of your medical condition, the continued need to see medical specialists, the hospital and medical bills that keep coming in the mail, the loss of your income and the severe pain. What you need to keep in mind during this struggle is that you only have a limited period of time that the law allows you to seek compensation for your injuries and damages. That’s known as the limitations period, and a statute of limitations can be very harsh.
They’re Different from State to State
Every state has a statute of limitations for personal injury cases, and the limitations period can differ from state to state. For example, in Tennessee, the general rule is that the period is one year from the date of an accident.1 In Maine, it’s six years.2 If you fail to file your personal injury lawsuit within the period of time specified by your state’s statute of limitations, you’re likely to be forever barred from seeking compensation for your damages.
What’s the Purpose of a Statute of Limitations?
First, nobody wants the threat of a personal injury lawsuit hanging over their head for the rest of their life. Legislatures have chosen to eliminate such threats and end any potential judicial controversies by setting a specific period of time that a lawsuit must be filed by.
The next reason involves the integrity of the evidence in the case. Actual physical evidence can get lost, damaged or altered, recollections of events can get fuzzy and witnesses can vanish into thin air. The statute of limitations in a personal injury case operates to preserve evidence so that judges and juries obtain a fresh evaluation of the evidence in a case.
Every state has exceptions to its personal injury statute of limitations. Sometimes the exceptions are more forgiving, and at other times they’re even harsher.
For example, if an accident victim dies from injuries he or she suffered in an accident from six months ago, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit begins to run on his or her date of death. Under those circumstances, two different limitations periods probably apply.
If a minor was injured in an accident, the statute of limitations usually starts running when he or she reaches the age of majority.
Sometimes a person might not know that he or she was injured in an accident for months or years after an accident, like when a surgical instrument was left inside of a patient’s body. In a case like that, the statute starts running when he or she becomes aware or should have become aware that the defendant was careless and negligent.
State and Municipal Liability
Sometimes employees of state or municipal entities cause accidents, injuries or deaths. Many states require a notice of claim to be served on the appropriate entity within a very short time after an accident. That entity is then allowed time to investigate and respond to the claim. Without a timely and proper notice, a personal injury lawsuit can’t move forward. It would be subject to a motion to dismiss, even if the lawsuit was filed within the time prescribed by the statute of limitations.
Even the top personal injury lawyers in the country offer injury victims free consultations and case evaluations. If you were seriously injured in an accident, arrange to meet with a personal injury lawyer from a quality personal injury law firm as soon as possible. Given the time constraints, you’re far better off if you arrange for that appointment sooner rather than later.
1. Tenn. Code § 28-3-104(a)(1).