What is a Tort Statute of Limitations?

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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 21 March 2020
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The tort statute of limitations delineates the time period during which a person is allowed to sue for any wrongdoing or injuries. Each jurisdiction may have its own statute of limitations, and the various tort categories can also have different windows of opportunity. If a suit has not been filed before the tort statute of limitations is reached, it typically will no longer be possible to recoup damages or achieve any sort of judicial action regarding the case. Tort statutes refer to civil cases, which are typically subject to different limitations than criminal offenses.

Torts are legal actions that can be brought against individuals or groups, such as companies and governments, that may have breached a civil duty or injured someone. Many tort cases involve negligence, where a lack of reasonable care resulted in some type of injury. This is not always a physical injury, as the legal definition can include monetary damages, violations of rights, and other similar harms. In order to protect the rights of the accused, a statute of limitations is often imposed. The reasoning behind statutes of limitations is typically that after a certain amount of time has passed, it becomes difficult to provide a fair trial.


A tort statute of limitations is typically said to start running as soon as a person is injured. In some jurisdictions, certain events or circumstances can cause the period to start at a later time or even be put on hold. The process of putting a tort statute of limitations on hold is typically referred to as tolling, and it may be triggered automatically by the inability to locate the accused or voluntarily as an agreement between all parties. In cases that involve illegal activity occurring over an extended period of time, the initial and subsequent acts typically toll the tort statute of limitations until the final act is committed.

Different types of torts can have widely varying statutes of limitations, and each jurisdiction typically has its own as well. In the United States, the wrongful death statute of limitations is typically between one and three years, and medical malpractice suits usually must be brought within an average of two years. The libel statute of limitations is typically about one year, though some suits have claimed that online material constitute continuous publishing, which should result in tolling. Many courts have overturned such claims and stated that the statute of limitations starts on date of the original publication.


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Post 2

@Terrificli -- and if that lawyer messes up and the statute of limitations does run, that lawyer may be guilty of malpractice and likely carries insurance that will pay for what you probably lost.

So, getting an attorney means you are double covered in a way. That attorney can help you win your case and will be someone you can sue if he or she drops the ball.

Post 1

Keep in mind that tort statutes of limitations tend to vary considerably from state to state. Trying to figure out what causes the statute of limitations in any case to toll is a hard thing to figure out, too.

The best advice is to get to work as soon as you discover the harm giving rise to the tort. An attorney who specializes in such cases can help you protect your claim and not let it evaporate due to the statute of limitations kicking in.

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