Personal Injury: Statute of Limitations

Statute of Limitations Bars Late Filing

Statute of Limitations Bars Late Filing

Bars usually go with criminal law, as in “behind bars”.

But, in civil law, statutes of limitation bar cases forever if not filed on time.  When the doors slam shut, there’s no going back.

The “Statute of Limitations” is a legal deadline requiring a case be filed within a certain time after an event which gave rise to the claim.  The claim must be filed in a court of proper jurisdiction before the statute runs out, or else the case is barred forever.  Different types of cases have different limitation periods, which vary from state to state.

For example in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the two states in which I am licensed, the statute of limitations applicable to general negligence cases, including most accidents, is three years.

Notice Provisions

Notice requirements pose a different barrier.  Statutes of limitations require a case be filed in court before the deadline.  But in many cases, you don’t even get that far unless you first, usually soon after the incident, give written “notice”.  Any case against any governmental entity requires notice, sometimes in 30 days.  Massachusetts requires 30 day notice after a ‘fall down’ accident.  Only 2 examples.  Nearly always, notice must be by certified mail.

Insurance companies often require ‘prompt’ notice, especially when the policy holder has a claim.  Not having read the fine print is no defense.  Prompt can mean anywhere between 24 hours to 30 days.  If in doubt, give notice as soon as possible.

Reason for Statute of Limitation

Statutes of limitation exist to provide finality and certainty in the law.  They allow disposal of records by companies after a defined period of time.  People with disputes must “let it go” after time. The focus so far: civil statutes.  Criminal statutes bar prosecution unless charges are filed within the criminal statute of limitation.  Class A and B felony prosecutions must be filed within six years in NH.  Misdemeanors: a year, and violations, three months.  There is rarely if ever a statute on murder anywhere.

Waiting for Last Minute: Bad Strategy

If you’ve had an accident or found yourself a victim of breach of contract, get advice from an attorney in your jurisdiction immediately.  Statutes vary state-by-state.  For example, in California, Pennsylvania and Connecticut it’s two years.

Statutes vary not only state by state but special statutes apply to special case categories.  One example:  New Hampshire, always protective of its ski industry, imposes a two year limitation on claims against ski resorts.

One sunny summer Friday afternoon my office received a phone call.  The caller knew the “statute” was running that day.  It was just before 2:00 pm.  There were some complicating factors.  No time to do an independent evaluation.  Court rules impose a ‘good faith’ requirement on all filings.  Too much potential for error, the answer was no.

If you have an unresolved legal matter, do not wait.  No experienced lawyer wants to “run up the courthouse steps” at the last minute.  Waiting until the last minute is fatal if mandatory notice requirements have been ignored.  You will also have passed up the opportunity to realistically approach out-of-court settlement.

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About Andrew Myers

Attorney Myers is a member of the American Association For Justice, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, New Hampshire Association For Justice, National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys & Rotary International. Legal services provided in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampsire (NH).

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