Statute of limitations. That’s a term that strikes fear in many a personal injury attorney. And for good reason. A statute of limitations is a law that restricts the time during which a lawsuit can be brought.
Let’s say you were stopped at a red light. You were then hit from behind. In no way could the accident have been your fault. Let’s also say you suffered a displaced fracture. You are entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering.
However, if you wait too long to take action, it won’t matter. It won’t matter how much the other driver was at fault. It won’t matter how bad your injuries were. Nor will it matter how much pain you suffered.
Once the deadline set by the statute of limitations passes, there is nothing an attorney can do. It is simply too late for you to recover anything.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS LIMITS TIME FOR YOU TO SUE
In a typical personal injury case in New Jersey, the statute of limitations is two years. That means that if you do not file a lawsuit in court for damages within two years from the date of the accident, you forever give up your right to sue.
There are exceptions. In some cases, there are deadlines that have to be met much earlier than two years. For example, if you have a claim against the government in New Jersey, you generally have only 90 days to take certain action. In defamation cases, the deadline to sue is generally one year.
Some cases have longer deadlines. If you were not immediately aware that you were injured, you may have longer to sue. A juvenile under 18 years of age may have a longer time to bring a claim. Claims that do not involve personal injury may generally be filed up to six years from the date of the incident. Or, in some cases, just four years.
There are many different statutes of limitations. They are too numerous to mention here. Whenever you have a possible legal claim of any type, you should consult an attorney right away. One of the first things that the attorney will do is to determine what the statute of limitations deadline is.
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
Statute of limitations deadlines aside, it is always important that you see an attorney immediately, respecting any potential claim you may have. Every case needs to be properly investigated and documented. Witnesses need to be interviewed. If all this is not done early on, your case may be negatively impacted. Even if you file a lawsuit on time, you may not recover as much, if you waited too long to see an attorney. Evidence that could have helped your case may have become unavailable. For example, a witness’ memory may fade with time.
You can read a New Jersey Supreme Court case here interpreting which statute of limitations deadline would apply, in a case where personal injury was caused by a dangerous product.