Find the right lawyer now

Statute of Limitations Definition

Find a Local Personal Injury Lawyer near You

Statute of Limitations Definition

Statute of limitations is a blanket term used to describe state statutes that specify the time limit that a plaintiff has to file a complaint or that the prosecutor has to file criminal charges. Thus, if this time has passed, the plaintiff or prosecutor is barred from initiating a case against the defendant.

Why Do States Have Statutes of Limitations?

Statutes of limitations protect defendants from litigation. The United States has an adversarial legal system. This means that the legal system does not skew towards the plaintiff or the defendant. Rather, the system is designed to be fair to both parties.

Statutes of limitations allow plaintiffs to pursue valid claims when they exercise due diligence in filing them. Statutes of limitations also protect defendants from late-filed complaints in which evidence may have been destroyed or lost.

When Does Time Begin to Run?

The statute of limitations begins to run either at the time of injury or when the plaintiff discovers the injury.

If a lawsuit is filed after the statute of limitations, the claim can often be defeated by the defendant. However, in some instances, the clock may be briefly stopped. This is known as tolling.

For instance, if the plaintiff is a minor at the time of the injury, many states will allow tolling until the plaintiff has reached 18 years old. This is because lawsuits can only be filed by legal adults. Tolling means that the clock will stop running until the condition that caused the tolling ends.

The parties may also agree to shorten or lengthen the statute of limitations, though this is rare.

Where Do I Find the Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations is a statute or state law. It will usually be found in the state statute for the claim that you are seeking to file. For instance, if you want to file a negligence complaint related to a car accident, you will most likely need to look under the common law negligence statute for your state. This statute will state the statute of limitations, usually in terms of years, and may also define when the statute of limitations begins running.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you are either interested in filing a lawsuit or a lawsuit has been filed against you, you will need a personal injury lawyer. An attorney that practices personal injury law can help you to determine if the statute of limitations have passed. The personal injury lawyer can also discuss your claims and counter-claims, evaluate the merits of your case, and help you navigate the court system.

Photo of page author Jessica Long

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 06-24-2018 06:37 PM PDT

Law Library Disclaimer
  • No fee to present your case
  • Choose from lawyers in your area
  • A 100% confidential service
What is LegalMatch?

We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.