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What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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A personal injury statute of limitations is the legal maximum period of time between an injury and the filing of a lawsuit for damages. These statutes vary widely by jurisdiction, and may also be different depending on the type of claim. To find out the personal injury statute of limitations in a specific region, check with a local court clerk or look online for the applicable legislature in the area.

Personal injury is defined as an injury done to the mind or body of a person through negligence, accident, or intentional actions of another person. It can include a variety of offenses, including slander or libel, physical or emotional abuse, medical malpractice or negligence, and even wrongful death. Personal injury lawsuits are generally within the province of civil court, meaning that an offense has been done to an individual and not the state or country. In these cases, a judge is usually empowered to award monetary damages up to a certain US Dollar value, for the incident as well as for things like court costs and penalties for unlawful behavior.

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A personal injury statute of limitations prevents a plaintiff from bringing a lawsuit long after the incident occurs. There is, however, a major exception to this concept that many jurisdictions accept. The statute of limitations clock only begins ticking after harm is discovered by the plaintiff; for instance, if a doctor negligently left a surgical towel in a patient and the towel was not discovered for several years, the patient's window for filing suit would not begin until the discovery of the towel. If, however, the plaintiff knew something experienced symptoms from the faulty surgery immediately but chose not to seek medical attention for the problem, the rule of discovery of harm might not apply.

Depending on the type of claim, the personal injury statute of limitations may be different. For instance, in Maine, the personal injury statute of limitations for most lawsuits is six years, but for libel and slander cases is only two years. In Florida, most claims are allowed a four year statute of limitations, but medical malpractice and wrongful death claims have a two year limit.

Consulting with an experienced attorney or legal aid professional can help an individual navigate personal injury statute of limitations issues. Since time periods and the discovery of harm rule vary from region to region, it is important to understand the exact process on an individual case basis. In areas with short statute periods, it is vitally important to move quickly and obtain necessary filing documents before the statute expires. Remember, the statute of limitations is almost always in regard to the filing date of the lawsuit, not the start of the trial.

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