What is the Small Claims Statute of Limitations?

Christopher John
Christopher John
Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

A small claims statute of limitations is a law that establishes a specific amount of time in which a party can take legal action against some other party on a claim. Once the time to take legal action expires, a person will not be able to file a lawsuit regarding the claim. Each jurisdiction’s statute of limitations will vary, depending on the type of claim. For instance, a claim based on a written contract may have a three-year statute of limitations, while one based on injuries from a car accident may have a five-year time limit. Each jurisdiction is empowered to establish whatever period it deems appropriate.

A key factor concerning small claims statute of limitations is determining when the time starts to run on a claim. The clock generally starts ticking when the cause of action arises. This means the time starts when the incident occurs, such as when a car accident occurs, for example. In a breach of contract case, the time would commence at the time the breach occurs.

In some cases, the statute of limitations may not begin to run until a party knows he or she has a right to bring a claim. Each situation is unique, and a lawyer will know how to analyze a particular situation to determine when a cause of action begins. If a person is in doubt about when the time begins, a lawyer can advise him or her accordingly.

The law also may allow for a tolling of the small claims statute of limitations. This means the court will stop the clock, which prevents the time to file a suit from expiring. Generally, a tolling may be justified or necessary when a party is absent from the jurisdiction, is not of legal age, is incapacitated, or some other reason that a judge finds convincing.

If a plaintiff initiates a lawsuit against a defendant, then the defendant will need to determine whether the small claims statute of limitations applies to the situation. If it does apply, then the defendant will need to file a motion to dismiss. In the motion, the defendant needs to identify when the cause of action arises and specify the statute of limitations that applies to the situation. The court will decide whether the statute is applicable and whether it should apply a tolling. If the statute of limitations does apply and a tolling is not appropriate, the court will enter a dismissal order and the case is over.

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