It’s pretty incredible that our country has a justice system whereby if someone behaves negligently and that negligence directly harms you in some way, you have the right to file a lawsuit against that person or entity so you can receive compensation for the injuries you’ve suffered. But even though it is your right to file such a lawsuit, a system of checks and balances is still required in such scenarios in order to place some control over why and how those lawsuits are filed. If this type of balance didn’t exist, then the system would fall apart for just about everyone who relies on it.
One such method of checks and balances is called a statute of limitations. And in its most basic form, this statute limits the amount of time a victim has to file a lawsuit against the party they believe is responsible for their injuries. But statutes of limitations do have the potential to get a lot more complicated than that, depending on who you are, what kind of injury you suffered, and even where the incident that led to the injury happened.
So if you’ve suffered a personal injury that you believe may qualify for a lawsuit, understanding the statute of limitations related to your specific scenario could be much more important to your case than you realize.
Explaining Statutes of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a law that outlines how long a person has to file a lawsuit against the alleged person or entity that harmed them. It sets a maximum amount of time that the plaintiff may initiate legal proceedings. Once this “statutory deadline” has passed, it is no longer possible to file a claim related to the alleged incident, meaning the allegedly responsible party essentially is free of any reprimand for the potential crime they committed.
There are two types of statutes of limitations that exist: criminal and civil. Personal injury lawsuits are civil cases and come with strict statutory deadlines attached to them. The plaintiff in these cases is often the victim who suffered the injury that is being sued over, but it can also be the family of the victim if their injuries are severe enough to prevent them from taking legal action on their own behalf. It may also be the family of the victim if the victim lost their life as a result of the accident.
Statutes of limitations are necessary for a variety of reasons. But one of the main reasons is due to the fact that some types of evidence are incredibly time-sensitive, meaning the more time that passes between the accident and the events of the lawsuit, the less effective that piece of evidence may be when arguing your case. This is especially true when considering that witnesses’ memories tend to become less clear or more inaccurate as time goes on. But other evidentiary items and information also have the potential to become misplaced, outdated, or sometimes even destroyed as more time passes. Then it becomes entirely unusable or ineffective for building a legal case.
Determining Your Statute of Limitations
In order to make sure you’re protecting your legal rights, it’s important to know what the statute of limitations is in your specific type of case. Each state has different designated statutes of limitations depending on the type of crime, accident, or lawsuit involved.
Personal Injury – For most civil personal injury cases in the state of Missouri, the statute of limitations is five years (Missouri Code section 516.120). And personal injury cases can involve a variety of incidents, including (but not limited to) car accidents, semi-truck accidents, pedestrian accidents, sports injuries, slip and fall cases, childcare negligence, and medical malpractice. But there are some factors that can affect the statute timelines associated with these cases.
- Minors – If a minor—or a person under 18 years of age—have an injury claim to file, the statute of limitations on that specific claim does not begin to run until the minor turns 21 years old. This is true even if their 21st birthday falls well outside the usual five-year statute for personal injury claims. This does not mean that the minor is required to wait until they are 21 years old to file—it simply means they have the option.
- Medical Malpractice – In cases involving medical malpractice, the circumstances which often involve injury or harm that results from the negligence of a doctor or other trusted medical staff, the statute of limitations in Missouri is only two years, rather than five. This means that the patient has no more than two years from the date the malpractice was inflicted to file a complaint with the court.
- Wrongful Death – There are also alternate statutes of limitation for cases of personal injury that result in wrongful death. In these cases, the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit is only three years from the date of the victim’s death.
- Deadline Extension – Most often, the “clock” on your statute of limitations begins at the time the alleged incident or accident occurred. However, in some cases where the victim may not have discovered the extent of the damage they suffered until much later, which can happen in the case of something like a brain injury, you may be given more time to file a lawsuit.
For example, the deadline might be extended if the discovery of the injury couldn’t occur until six months after the incident when the brain finally revealed the extent of the damage suffered, and your doctor was only able to discover and start treating it at that time.
Filing Statute of Limitations
After suffering some kind of severe personal injury, your main focus should of course be on your recovery process. Your health is of utmost importance, and there’s no denying that. In that case, you might be tempted to put off taking any legal action against the party who harmed you. You’ve got years to file, after all. Five years, three years, and even two years is plenty of time, right?
While these statute timelines might seem like plenty of opportunity to recover from your injuries, regain your bearings, and then take legal action when you feel good and ready, the reality is that time will move much quicker than you anticipate. And in the meantime, your case could be losing a lot of important traction. These statutes exist in part to try and ensure that any convictions are based upon evidence that has not deteriorated over time. That means they exist to potentially make your case lean further in your favor. So the longer you wait, the more potential there is for evidence to fade and for the party responsible for your injuries to get away with what they’ve done.
But beyond compiling stronger evidence, filing your personal injury lawsuit sooner almost always means reaching the end of the case that much sooner. Personal injury proceedings can take a lot of time to carry out to a final verdict and assignment of compensation. This is especially true if your case can’t be settled and is taken all the way to court to be argued. So the sooner the case starts, the sooner it can finish, meaning the sooner you can hopefully receive the compensation you deserve.
Filing a lawsuit may seem like a daunting and scary process. This is especially true when all your time, energy, and money are being spent on just trying to recover from your injuries to the best of your abilities. But it doesn’t have to be scary if you have the right Missouri personal injury lawyer to help you. So don’t let the idea of filing a lawsuit keep you from missing out on your opportunity to do so.
Contact our St. Louis office at (314) 293-4222 to discuss your personal injury claim with an experienced trial lawyer from Finney Injury Law. We know this is a challenging time for you and your family and hope to be of assistance.