Losing Your Case Before it Has Begun: Understanding Statutes of Limitations

You may be familiar with the term “statute of limitations” from watching television or a movie, usually in the context of “there’s no statute of limitations for murder,” or that the statue of limitations has passed for a crime. But what exactly is a statute of limitations, and how does it apply to your personal injury case?

In Arizona, a statute of limitations is the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit against another person for a wrong they have caused. Other states may refer to this deadline slightly differently, such as “Limitation of Actions” or “Statute of Repose”; however, the meaning is roughly the same. The state legislature created laws, known as “statutes,” that impose a limit on the amount of time plaintiffs have to file lawsuits. The purpose of the statute of limitations is to protect the integrity of evidence and witnesses, and give defendants some certainty about whether they will be sued. It acts as a giant warning sign for plaintiffs that their lawsuits must be filed on or before a certain date or their claim will be dismissed and treated as if it never existed. Once that deadline passes, even by one day, any chance a plaintiff had of suing for damages will be gone, regardless of how strong his or her case was.

Although statutes of limitations are supposed to be concrete rules that are easy to understand, they are not always that simple. There may be exceptions. For example, a typical personal injury case in Arizona has a statute of limitations of 2 years from the date of the injury-causing incident. But, if that incident is a dog bite, the statute of limitations is only 1 year on the strict liability portion of the claim (the negligence portion survives for another year, but isn’t as strong of a case). If the defendant involved in causing the injury is a government entity or government employee, there is a very complex “notice of claim” requirement that must be completed within 180 days from the date of the incident or the plaintiff will lose his or her claim against that entity.

Something else to be aware of is that every state has its own laws regarding deadlines for filing lawsuits, so if the injury occurred outside of Arizona, the statute of limitations may be different.

There are also various factors that may extend the statute of limitations, such as if the claimant is under the age of 18. Since the minor’s guardian is financially responsible for the medical bills, that claim belonging to the guardian would extinguish after 2 years. Medical malpractice cases also have exceptions for certain cases where the injury is not discovered until sometime after it occurred. Some types of wrongs have a longer statute of limitations, such as a breach of contract case, which allows the plaintiff in Arizona 6 years in which to file a lawsuit.

The point, however, is that the statute of limitations can be a trap for the unwary, or a complete bar to recovery for the procrastinator. If your head is already swimming thinking about this, let us help! It is our job to know the facts of the case, apply those facts to the law, and monitor important deadlines to ensure you do not miss your opportunity to recover damages owed.

Worried that you might have already missed an important date on your case? Speaking with an attorney at Fite Law Group to find out is free and easy. Contact us at (602) 368-1869 to schedule a call or virtual appointment to discuss your case.