Everything you need to know about statutes of limitation

Growing up on Long Island in the ’90s, Bridie Farrell seemed to her friends and teachers a typical, happy teenager—but there were two significant differences about Bridie. One, everyone knew about: she was a competitive speed skater, one whose athletic talent made her an Olympic hopeful. The other, only one other person knew about: at the age of 15, Bridie had been repeatedly molested by a 35-year old man who was her teammate and mentor.

Four years ago, Bridie went public with her secret and she sought justice. There was just one problem: New York state has one of the strictest statutes of limitation in the nation for child sex abuse cases. Victims must sue their alleged abuser by their 23rd birthday, and four years ago, Bridie, now a mother of five living in Massachusetts, was already in her 30s.

But statutes of limitation surprise many unsuspecting victims in a variety of cases, especially when it comes to workers compensation and other personal injury claims. 

So what is a statute of limitation?

A statute of limitation designates a specific time period after which charges cannot be made or lawsuits filed against individuals for different crimes. FindLaw defines statutes of limitation and their justification in this way:

“A statute of limitation is a law which forbids prosecutors from charging someone with a crime that was committed more than a specified number of years ago. The general purpose of statutes of limitation is to make sure convictions occur only upon evidence (physical or eyewitness) that has not deteriorated with time. After the period of the statute has run, the criminal is essentially free.”

Are there exceptions?

Statutes of limitation do not apply to some crimes, though this varies widely be state. For example, there is no statute of limitation for murder in any state. In some states, there is no statute of limitation for other crimes, including kidnapping, arson, forgery, certain crimes of violence and sex offenses involving minors.

In California and Arizona, no statute of limitation applies to cases involving public money or public records. In Missouri, there is no statute of limitation for any crimes classified as “Class A felonies” — this includes, in addition to murder, first-degree kidnapping, certain drug crimes and more.

For criminal cases in Tennessee, there is no statute of limitation for any crime which is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Class A felonies carry a 15-year statute of limitation, while for Class B felonies, it’s eight years, for Class C or D felonies, four years, and for other crimes, three years.

The statute of limitations in personal injury cases also differs by state. In some states, for example, you have up to six years from the date of your accident to file a lawsuit. In other states, the statute of limitations in personal injury cases is three years, and some states (including Tennessee) give you just one year from the date of your accident to file your lawsuit.

Can a statute of limitation be extended?

In most states, you can extend a statute of limitation based on the so-called “discovery rule.” For example, if you suffered a personal injury but didn’t know either that you were injured, or that the potential defendant’s actions were the cause of your injury, the time limitation written into the statute does not include the time you were unaware of those facts.

For example, if you were exposed to asbestos in your home or workplace, you might not know you were injured until your doctor discovers you have lung cancer 15 years later. If you live in a state with the discovery rule, you could still file a lawsuit long after the statute of limitations has expired.

Why you need a competent personal injury attorney

Getting justice when you’ve been the victim of personal injury is not a do-it-yourself project. The laws governing personal injury are complex and change frequently. If you’ve been the victim of a personal injury, you need to hire an experienced personal injury attorney.

At Dreaden & Cox Attorneys at Law, we know personal injury law and will devote our combined 60 years of legal experience to understand your situation and get you the justice you deserve. To learn more about the ways we can help, or to schedule a consultation, contact us today.