How Much Time Do You Have to File a Civil Lawsuit

Joseph Taraska Attorney

About 40 million civil lawsuits are filed in America each year, making it one of the most litigious countries in the world.

Despite that extremely high number, Joseph Taraska Attorney says that there are strict rules that everyone must follow when filing lawsuits. These rules apply to everything from personal injury and wrongful termination lawsuits to medical malpractice and breach of contract cases.

One of the most important of these rules involves the statute of limitations.  This is the time within which a lawsuit must be filed or forever barred. Such limits have been created to be fair to both parties—the injured individual as well as the person or entity that caused the injury. The general belief is that if too much time has elapsed witnesses recollections may fade and evidence may be lost thus preventing a fair adjudication.

The Statutes of Limitations

The statute of limitations varies depending on the type of case and the state within which the act occurred, but generally refers to the maximum amount of time allowed to file a case.  

The starting point for calculating the time varies by state. In some states, it commences when an individual knew or should have known with the exercise of reasonable caution that they might have a lawsuit.  In others, it may commence with the injury or the negligent act that is being sued upon. For this reason, it is imperative that one become aware of their own state rules. 

In addition to the Statute of Limitations, some states impose a Statute of Repose.  This is usually the maximum time from the date of injury regardless of when one could have suspected they had a cause of action upon which to sue.   For example, in Florida, the Statute of Limitations for medical malpractice is two years from the time one could reasonably have suspected that they had a cause of action upon which to sue.  In other words, when should they have reasonably suspected that malpractice occurred.  However, the Statute of Repose creates another time limit regardless of when an individual could have suspected that negligence occurred in their treatment.  With some exceptions in Florida that is four years from the act of negligence.

As noted, there are exceptions. Depending on the state they may include an extension during a minors period of minority or where there has been a fraudulent attempt on the part of the negligent actor to hide the negligence thus preventing discovery.  In addition, the time periods may in some circumstances be tolled or held in abeyance when an individual has left the jurisdiction and cannot be found.

Joseph Taraska Attorney

As noted, the time periods within which to file a civil suit are varied and complex depending on the circumstances and the state within which one seeks to file.  As a result, the best course of action whenever one has suffered an injury they suspect may be compensable through legal action is to contact counsel. When searching for counsel, it is usually best because of the complexity of these matters to consult with an attorney who has expertise in the specific type of action you wish to bring.