Statute of limitations is the legal term that is used to describe certain state statutes. These statutes specify the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a personal injury lawsuit or the amount of time that a prosecutor has to file a criminal complaint against a defendant.
Statute of limitations is intended to place a limit on the plaintiff by establishing a deadline for filing their civil lawsuit. If enough time has passed, the plaintiff or criminal prosecutor is barred from bringing their case against the defendant.
The statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit will vary 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 their due diligence by filing their claims in a timely manner. There are three main reasons why the law enacts statutes of limitations:
- The statute of limitations 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 to a lawsuit, with that evidence being necessary to defend themselves against the claims brought against them;
- 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.” In general, the statute of limitations begins when the harmful event occurs or when the plaintiff discovers the injury.
Then, if a lawsuit is initiated after the statute of limitations, it is likely that the claim will be thrown out of court with a simple motion to dismiss 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.”