Statutes of Limitations

Statutes of limitations set the deadline or maximum period of time within which a lawsuit or legal claim may be filed. They vary depending on the circumstances of the case, the type of case or claim involved, and whether the lawsuit or claim is filed in state or federal court.

Statutes of Limitation for Civil Actions

The statute of limitations for filing a civil action varies from state to state. Statutes of limitations usually allow a party at least one year to file suit. The following are examples of statutes of limitations for common civil claims:

  • Negligence: personal injury - 1 to 2 years; intentional wrongdoing - 1 to 6 years
  • Breach of oral contract - 2 to 6 years
  • Breach of written contract - 3 to 6 years
  • Medical Malpractice - 1 to 4 years from act or occurrence of injury or 6 months to 3 years from discovery
  • Legal Malpractice - 1 to 3 years from date of discovery or 2 to 5 years from the date of the wrongful act
  • Fraud or mistake - 3 to 6 years from the date of discovery
  • A claim against a government entity - usually less than 1 year
  • Collection of federal income taxes - 10 years
  • State income taxes - varies from state-to-state; some states have no limit
  • Property damage - 2 to 10 years
  • Enforcement of civil judgment - 5 to 25 years

Before filing any suit, check to see what statute of limitations applies in your jurisdiction.

Tolling the Statute of Limitations

There are certain circumstances in which the statute of limitations is tolled or extended. Tolling prevents the time for filing suit from running while the condition exists. Examples giving rise to tolling include:

  • The hurt or damaged party is a minor
  • The defendant has filed for bankruptcy
  • A party is under a disability such as mental illness
  • An unconditional promise to pay a debt or unconditional acknowledgement of a debt

Mere ignorance of the existence of a cause of action or the existence of a statute of limitations generally does not toll the limitations period.

Violation of the Statute of Limitations

If a lawsuit has been filed against you and you believe it is untimely, it is up to you to alert the court. If the statute of limitations has in fact expired, you could have the lawsuit dismissed.

Statute of Limitations for Criminal Actions

For some crimes, including homicide, there is no statute of limitations. A number of states have also abolished time limits for bringing criminal charges in cases involving the alleged sexual abuse of children. The statute of limitations for all other crimes varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction based on their general classification as either felonies or misdemeanors. Generally, the time limit starts to run on the date the offense was committed and not from the time the crime was discovered or the accused was identified.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Is there a statute of limitations for collecting on a debt?
  • When did the limitations period start running on the medical malpractice claim against my doctor?
  • What if it takes time to hunt down the driver involved in my auto accident, does that extend the deadline for filing a lawsuit against him?
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