If you are injured in an accident, your right to sue does not last forever. The statute of limitations is a law that places time limits on different causes of action. There are many sound reasons for such limits. Over time evidence degrades and disappears. The memories of witnesses fade, or the witnesses could pass away or move outside the jurisdiction of the court. A defendant should not have to live under eternal threat of a lawsuit, nor should a plaintiff be able to bide his time, waiting for a moment of weakness for the defendant before filing. Justice requires cases to be brought and resolved within a reasonable amount of time.
For personal injury, products liability and medical malpractice cases, Massachusetts has decided that three years from the date of the injury event is a reasonable limit. However, there are circumstances that toll, or stop, the time period from running, such as:
- Discovery rule — Not all injuries are immediately apparent. Generally, the law allows a reasonable time to file a lawsuit from the moment the plaintiff knew or should have known about the injury. This usually requires a complex analysis of the facts of the case and highlights the importance of seeing an attorney immediately. There are also some exceptions to this rule: for example, a doctor cannot be held liable for his or her negligence seven (7) years after the negligent act whether the injured party was aware or not. (Unless the negligence consisted of leaving a foreign body in the person). Similarly, architects and engineers are not responsible for their negligent acts after six (6) years after the “improvement to real property” was substantially completed, regardless of when you were injured! Again, exceptions like these show that if you have a claim, see an attorney as soon as possible.
- Injury of a minor — When a minor is injured, the statute of limitations is generally tolled, and does not being to run until the minor’s eighteenth birthday. There are important exceptions such as medical malpractice actions where a child under six has only until his/her ninth birthday to bring an action.
- Plaintiff’s mental incapacity — Generally, if the plaintiff is mentally incompetent at the time of the injury, the statute is tolled until the plaintiff regains capacity. Again, there are important exceptions, such as medical malpractice actions or cases involving architects or engineers.
- Defendant’s bankruptcy — When a person files for bankruptcy, the court issues an automatic stay that prevents anyone with a claim from attempting to collect. A plaintiff has a legal claim against the defendant, but must wait until after the bankruptcy is finalized to file a lawsuit.
Ideally, the statute of limitations should never come into play. An injured party should contact a qualified attorney immediately after an injury event, so that evidence can be preserved and negotiations to resolve the claim can go forward. However, we do not live in an ideal world, and problems can arise that prevent an injured party from exercising his rights.
If you have been injured due to someone’s negligence, assert your rights before you lose them! Call Swartz & Lynch LLP at 857-250-0664 to schedule a free consultation or contact our Boston office online.