Statute of limitations is a legal term that is used to describe state statutes. These statutes specify the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a civil lawsuit, or the amount of time a prosecutor has to file a criminal complaint against a defendant. They are intended to place a limit on the plaintiff by establishing a deadline for filing their lawsuit. If enough time has passed, the plaintiff or criminal prosecutor is barred from bringing their case against the defendant.
This deadline for filing a lawsuit varies depending on the type of suit being filed, as well as the applicable state statutes where the plaintiff is filing the lawsuit. One of the main purposes of a statute of limitations is to protect defendants from untimely litigation. Statutes of limitations allow plaintiffs to pursue valid claims against defendants, but only when the plaintiffs exercise due diligence by filing their claims in a timely manner.
There are three main reasons why the law enacts statutes of limitations:
- The statute forces a plaintiff with a valid cause of action to bring the claim in a timely manner;
- Bringing an untimely claim may result in the loss of evidence by a defendant, with that evidence being necessary to defend themselves against the claim; and
- Litigation of a long-dormant claim could result in more cruelty than justice.
The United States Supreme Court has frequently stated that the standard rule is that the statute of limitations begins to run “when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action.” Generally speaking, the statute of limitations begins when the harmful event occurs, or when the plaintiff discovers the injury.
If a lawsuit is initiated after the statute of limitations, it is likely that the claim will be thrown out of the court with a simple motion from the defendant. However, in some cases, the clock may have been paused for a period of time; this is referred to as “tolling the statute of limitations.”
An example of this would be in criminal cases in which the defendant commits a crime and flees, resulting in them becoming a fugitive of the state. The state would then suspend the statute of limitations for the period of time that the fugitive was on the run. What this means is that the prosecutor can bring the criminal charges forward once the fugitive is caught, not counting the time spent on the run.
Additionally, in cases where the plaintiff is a minor, many states allow tolling of the statute until the plaintiff reaches the majority age of eighteen. It is even possible for cases involving private civil matters for the statute of limitations to be shortened or lengthened by an agreement of both of the parties.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Car Accident in Texas?
To reiterate, the statute of limitations for car accidents determines the time frame in which you may file a lawsuit. In Texas, car accident victims have two years in which they may file a lawsuit, from the date of the accident. The statute of limitations is especially relevant to car accident cases due to the fact that victims usually first try to resolve the matter with their insurance companies. However, going into negotiations with insurance companies does not put the statute of limitations on hold.
According to the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 16.003, any personal injury lawsuit must be filed within two years from the date of the accident. Here, the term “victims” includes anyone who was injured during a car accident. This definition would cover drivers, riders, bystanders, and pedestrians.
Unless someone dies because of the accident, there are no exceptions to warrant a longer filing period. There may be an extended period in which to file a lawsuit for family members or representatives of the victim who died as a result of a car accident. The statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is still two years.
However, it starts on the day of death, while the statute of limitation for injuries starts to run on the day of the accident. What this means is that if the victim died at the scene of the accident, the statute of limitations would start on that day. But, if they died the next day, the statute of limitations would start on the next day.
Where Can I Find the Statute of Limitations for My State?
Above all else, a statute of limitations is a statute, which means it is a state law. What this means is that the statute of limitations is generally found in the state statute for the claim you are seeking to file. These statutes can be easily located online. An example of this would be how in personal injury cases, if you are seeking to file a negligence complaint related to a car accident, you would look under the common law negligence statute for your state.
Contained within the common law negligence state statute is a section entitled “statute of limitations.” This will present the amount of time the plaintiff will have to file their claims, and will usually be notated in a term of years such as two years, four years, five years, and so on.
The statute may also define when the statute of limitations begins running. This is useful in calculating whether the statute of limitation has indeed run, or if you still have time to file a claim due to the tolling of the statute.
What Else Should I Know About the Statute of Limitations in Texas?
In Texas, the longest statute of limitations under state criminal law is ten years. The following crimes may be covered by this ten year time period:
- Theft committed by a fiduciary;
- Theft committed by a public servant, such as a government employee;
- Crimes involving forgery;
- Felony offenses consisting of injury to an elderly and/or disabled person;
- Sexual assault;
- Aggravated sexual assault;
- Arson; and
- Compelling prostitution, or “pimping.”
The next longest Texas statute of limitations is seven years. This statute applies to:
- The misappropriation of fiduciary property, such as funds;
- Deception related to the execution of a document;
- Money laundering;
- Credit card and/or debt abuse;
- The fraudulent utilization of identifying information;
- Bigamy; and
- Medicaid fraud.
Other crimes may fall in the five year statute of limitations, such as:
- Theft or robbery of any kind not previously defined;
- Non-felony injury to someone who is elderly and/or disabled;
- Abandoning a child;
- Endangering a child; and
- Insurance fraud.
Do I Need an Attorney for Assistance with Car Accident Statute of Limitations in Texas?
If you were involved in a car accident in Texas and wish to pursue legal action related to the accident, you should consult with an experienced local car accident attorney in Texas as soon as possible. Because the statute of limitations on car accidents can vary greatly from state to state, a local Texas attorney will be suited for determining how Texas’ statute of limitations will affect your case.
An attorney can help you gather the necessary evidence and make a timely claim, while adhering to the statute of limitations. An attorney can also represent you in court as needed, while providing the evidence necessary to prove your legal claims, and help you recover for the damages you suffered due to the accident.