What is a Lawsuit Statute of Limitations?

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  • Written By: M.R. Anglin
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 17 May 2019
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A lawsuit statute of limitations is the amount of time someone has to file a case against another. If the person does not file a lawsuit in the appropriate time frame, he can lose his right to sue for any damages he has incurred. A lawsuit statute of limitations depends on several factors. For instance, the statute can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of case being filed. In addition, the time limit can be extended based on the age of the victim and when the damage was actually discovered.

The lawsuit statute of limitations exists to ensure that a person is bringing a lawsuit within a timely manner. Without the statute, a person who caused harm to another could be sued 10, 20, or even 40 years after the incident; with the statute, a person must bring a claim within a time limit so that every party can have closure. The statute also ensures that the evidence being brought against the defendant is as fresh as it can be. As time passes, some evidence can be destroyed or people may forget what happened. The statute helps to ensure that both the plaintiff and the defendant have the best possible chance to prove his case or to defend himself.


Each jurisdiction has a different lawsuit statute of limitations. In the United States, each state typically allows at least one year. That is not the case when a person has a case to file against the federal government, however. In this instance, a person may have as little as 60 days to notify the government that he will sue.

A lawsuit statute of limitations may also vary with the instance that caused the damages. For example, a personal injury case may carry a limitation of one to two years while a malpractice case carries a limitation of one to four years from the time the act occurred. Often the time limit starts when the harm was done, but the time limit can also vary to indicate when the actual harm was discovered. For example, a person may not have known he was injured in an accident until months after the fact. In this case, the clock may start ticking when the injury is discovered.

The time limit associated with lawsuit statute of limitation may also start at a time when the person should have reasonably discovered the damage. This time limit may exist regardless of whether the person actually knew about the damage. In this case, a judge can determine a time when the plaintiff should have known that there was a problem and start the time limit from there. The time limit may also vary with the age of the plaintiff. If the harm occurred to a minor, it may not start until he is old enough to sue — often 18 years old.



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