When can I file a lawsuit?

Any individual who wishes to bring a lawsuit for whatever reason should ask themselves, “Am I able to?” An individual who wishes to bring a lawsuit must keep in mind that he/she has to bring such lawsuit within a certain timeframe, also known as the “Statute of Limitations.” Most individuals have heard the term used before in the legal world but are not certain what it means in terms of his/her ability to file a lawsuit.

What is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitation is a time limit on how long an individual has to file a lawsuit, such as a personal injury lawsuit or medical malpractice lawsuit. Once the statute of limitations has run or expired, the individual can no longer bring his/her lawsuit.

How long does the Statute of Limitations run?

The general rule is that the statute of limitations begins to run on the date your claim arises. For example, say you are bringing a lawsuit for injuries sustained in a car accident. The statute of limitation begins to run on the date the car accident occurred. The statute of limitation begins on that particular date. It is important to remember that this is the general rule. There are certain exceptions where the statute of limitations doesn’t begin to run on the date the claim arises.

The beginning of the statute of limitations is easy to determine. It is generally when the claim arises. However, the end of the statute of limitations is more complicated to determine. Each cause of action brought in a lawsuit has different timeframes for when the statute of limitation expires. Civil lawsuits have different statutes of limitations than Criminal prosecution.

If bringing a civil lawsuit, below are the statute of limitations for the most common causes of action:

1. Assault and Battery – 2 years
2. Contract Dispute – 4 years
3. Fraud – 2 years
4. Legal Malpractice – 2 years
5. Libel – 1 year
6. Medical Malpractice – 2 years
7. Personal Injury – 2 years
8. Property Damage – 2 years
9. Trespass – 2 years

To give an example, say an individual wants to bring a civil lawsuit alleging property damage as a cause of action. If the property damage occurred on January 1, 2014, the statute of limitation begins to run on January 1, 2014 and expires in two (2) years on January 1, 2016. It is important to note that there are different statutes of limitations for different causes of action. Libel has a statute of limitations of only one (1) year while a Contract Dispute has a statute of limitations for four (4) years.

There are also criminal statutes of limitations. Criminal statutes of limitations tend to be much longer than civil statutes of limitations.

Below are the most common criminal statutes of limitations:

1. Arson – 5 years
2. Assault and Battery – 2 or 5 years
3. Burglary – 5 years
4. Manslaughter, voluntary – no time limit
5. Manslaughter, involuntary – 2 years
6. Murder – no time limit
7. Rape – 12 years
8. Theft – 5 years

It is important to remember that prosecution for criminal crimes carry much longer statutes of limitations. For example, if an individual committed rape, he/she can be prosecuted for that crime for up to twelve (12) years after the incident occurred. If an individual committed murder, he/she can be prosecuted at any time. There is no statute of limitations for murder.