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What Is the Statute of Limitations for Negligence?

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  • Written By: Renee Booker
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2014
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The statute of limitations for acts or omissions caused by a defendant's negligence will vary by jurisdiction as well as by the specific act. Common statute of limitations for negligence range from two to five years. How the time frame for the statute of limitations is calculated and exceptions to the time frame are also relevant considerations.

A statute of limitation is a time period within which a plaintiff, or victim, has to initiate a lawsuit in a civil case. In most cases, failure to begin the lawsuit prior to the expiration of the statute of limitation forever bars the plaintiff from recovering compensation for his or her injuries. Under some circumstances the statute of limitations is tolled, or stopped, for a period of time.

The act or omission on which the lawsuit is based frequently determines the statute of limitations for negligence lawsuits. Common examples of lawsuits based on negligence by the defendant include personal injury accidents, medical or professional malpractice, and product liability lawsuits. Statute of limitations for negligence based on personal injury lawsuits tend to be the shortest.

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How the time period for a statute of limitations for negligence is determined is important for the plaintiff to understand. Generally, the statute of limitations begins to run when the incident or accident that gave rise to the lawsuit occurred. For example, in a personal injury lawsuit based on a car accident, the statute of limitations would begin to run on the day the collision took place. There are, however, important exceptions to the general rule.

In certain types of negligence cases, the statute of limitations warrants a different starting point. In cases where the plaintiff would not reasonably have known he or she was injured until a later point in time, the statute of limitations for negligence does not begin until the plaintiff "knew or should have known he or she suffered injuries." Lawsuits based on exposure to asbestos are a classic example of when a statute of limitations does not begin upon the initial exposure to the harm, due to the fact that symptoms often do not appear until decades after the exposure.

In addition, if the defendant attempts to evade detection by fleeing the jurisdiction, this may toll the statute of limitations during the time that the defendant is outside the jurisdiction of the court. Likewise, in situations where the identity of the defendant could not reasonably be ascertained by the plaintiff within the statute of limitations, the time may also be tolled. A hit-and-run car accident where the identity of the driver is not immediately known is a prime example, as is a product liability case where there are multiple parts and therefore multiple potential defendants.

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