How Will a Statute of Limitations Affect My Ability to File a Lawsuit After an Accident?
Posted on Wednesday, September 11th, 2019 at 9:41 am
In Pennsylvania, you may have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation if you get hurt in an accident. However, this right won’t last forever.
The state imposes strict time limits for initiating a legal claim. If you hesitate to assert your rights or wait too long to file a claim, you risk losing out on money you not only need, but also deserve.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
Imagine you’re at a 76ers game. Both teams have a set amount of time – 48 minutes – to score as many points as they can. The clock begins to run once the game starts. Once time runs out, the teams aren’t able to play anymore. Only under extenuating circumstances – a tie – can the teams have more time to play.
A statute of limitations is kind of like the clock at that 76ers game. Once you get into an accident, the statute of limitations begins to run. Once time runs out – meaning that the statute of limitations has expired – you will forfeit the right to ask for compensation. Only under very special circumstances will you have the opportunity to get more time to file your claim.
Why Does Pennsylvania Have a Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Cases?
Statutes of limitations exist for a few reasons: fairness, accuracy, and efficiency. The state limits the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit because it wants to protect defendants from having to defend a lawsuit decades after an accident has occurred.
In reality, that wouldn’t really be fair. So, in the interest of fairness to all parties, the state requires plaintiffs to make a decision about filing a lawsuit within a reasonable amount of time after an accident.
A statute of limitations also applies to your case because the state wants your case to be litigated using the best possible evidence. If you wait years to pursue a claim, there’s a good chance that evidence relevant to your case will have gotten lost, damaged, or forgotten over time.
Limiting how long you have to initiate a lawsuit helps to ensure that cases are tried promptly, using fresh, reliable evidence. This can help to yield more accurate case outcomes.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Pennsylvania Personal Injury Cases?
The amount of time you’ll have to bring a civil claim for damages will ultimately depend on (a) how you got hurt, (b) the type of injury you’ve sustained, and (c) who is at fault. When it comes to bodily injury cases, the statute of limitations is generally two years from the date you got hurt.
This two-year time limit applies to causes of actions involving:
- Motor vehicle accidents (e.g., car, motorcycle, truck, bicycle, pedestrian)
- Medical malpractice
- Product liability
- Dog bites
- Assault and battery, and
- Wrongful death.
In fact, claims involving damage to property must also be filed within two years from the date of an accident.
There are situations when you may have less time to file a personal injury claim. For example, let’s say that you tripped and fell on a sidewalk in front of City Hall. You believe that the government’s negligence in maintaining its sidewalks caused you to get hurt. If you want to recover compensation from the government, you’ll only have six months to act.
Special Circumstances May Warrant Extra Time to File a Claim
If two teams are tied at the end of regulation in an NBA game, they’re allowed to have some extra time to play. There are also certain times when you might be able to get a little bit of extra time to file a personal injury lawsuit after an accident in Philadelphia.
The statute of limitations can be tolled – or paused – if any of the following circumstances apply to your case:
- There’s a reasonable delay in discovering your injury after an accident
- You were a minor at the time of the accident
- You were injured because of fraud, deception, or concealment, or
- The defendant cannot be located.
Why extend the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit? These are circumstances beyond your control. It’s not fair to punish you because your injury didn’t manifest right away or because the defendant skipped town. Once the “tolling factor” is no longer an issue, the statute of limitations begins to run.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Subject to a Statute of Repose
It is important to note, however, that a statute of repose does apply to medical malpractice cases. A statute of repose is similar to a statute of limitations but much stricter. A statute of repose sets a hard deadline for when a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed.
The statute of repose for medical malpractice lawsuits in Pennsylvania is:
- Seven years, unless the claim involves a foreign object left in the body, or
- The date a victim tuns 20 years old,
whichever is later.
So, unless you’re a child or something has been left in your body by a negligent medical professional, you’ll have a maximum of seven years to file a medical negligence claim.