Frequently Asked Questions About the Statute of Limitations
"I only want to make an insurance claim, so do I need to follow these rules?"
Even if you just want to make an insurance claim, you still have to follow these rules. Specifically, you are required to file your case in court before it reaches the deadline. If you do not do so, the insurance company usually has the right to refuse to give you any money at all. This can be true even if you are in the process of talking to them about a settlement.
Some states have laws requiring insurance companies to notify you about the statute of limitations if you do not have an attorney. If you receive a notice of that kind, do not let the insurance company representative convince you that it does not mean what it says! You will be getting the notice for the plain and simple reason that the insurance company has every intention of using the statute of limitations as their legal ground to refuse to pay you anything.
"What can I do if I blew it?"
If a great deal of time has elapsed since an attack, the victim should not assume that the statute of limitations has expired. There are exceptions to the statute of limitations. They can be very technical, so it is of utmost importance to contact a lawyer immediately.
"Do I really need a lawyer to file a lawsuit?"
Except for the small claims courts, the laws of civil procedure are too complicated for a non-attorney to apply. Cases that cannot be handled in the small claims court therefore must be handled by a lawyer who is experienced in litigation matters. You are absolutely advised to retain an attorney to bring a case or defend against a case that is other than a small claims court matter.
If a dog bite does not draw blood, small claims court might be appropriate. Most jurisdictions have small claims procedures that make filing relatively easy. However, choosing small claims court means limiting the amount of damages that can be recovered. For example, in California the small claims courts can decide cases that have a dollar value of up to $7,500.00 per defendant.
Any dog attack that draws blood should be referred to an experienced attorney because there is a possibility of scars, and therefore a possibility that the legal damages might exceed what a small claims court is authorized to handle.
Special Rules for Governmental Defendants
There is a tricky set of rules that covers claims against the government and its employees, and sometimes humane societies and SPCAs. Basically, before any court filings, a claim must be made in writing to the entity as follows:
- The claim must be made very soon after the attack. Do it within 60 days!
- The claim must be very specific in its presentation of the facts and injuries.
- The claim has to be handed to the correct person in the correct office.
A court case cannot be filed unless and until:
- The governmental claim is made, AND,
- The entity has either denied the claim, or has failed to deny it within a specific amount of time.
You may have heard that there are circumstances wherein the usual statute of limitations is "tolled" or "extended," such as when the victim is a child. Those rules do not necessarily apply to governmental claims!
Even if a governmental claim is for a small amount of money, and might be heard in the small claims court, the victim still has to comply with the governmental claim procedures.
Government offices readily hand out the claim forms. If any mistake is made on the form, however, the victim will lose all rights. The ease of getting these forms is in complete contrast to the technical knowledge required to fill them out.
Another trick is determining exactly who to give the filled-out form to. If it is sent to the wrong person or wrong office, the victim once again can lose all rights for that reason alone.
A humane society or SPCA can have governmental immunity in certain states. Therefore this type of defendant must be treated as if it actually were a governmental entity until an attorney determines otherwise.
Because of these complexities, victims are absolutely advised to consult with an attorney if there is reason to suspect that a defendant might be a governmental agency or employee. "Absolutely advised" means that there is no exception whatsoever to this advice.
Special Rules for Minors
With the exception of medical bills and other out of pocket costs and losses, and claims against governmental agencies, governmental employees, and humane societies, all states allow some extra time for making a claim on behalf of a person who is under the age of 18. However, at the risk of repeating what was written above, it is very complicated, there are exceptions to the rules and exceptions to the exceptions, and by "make a claim" the law means file a lawsuit, not just a report or an insurance claim.
In most states, a minor and his parents can wait a period of time after the child turns 18. In these states, the period described in the statute of limitations does not begin running until the victim's 18th birthday. For example, a California victim who was injured at age three could wait until he turned 20, because the statute would not begin ticking down until he turned 18, at which time he would have two years (see the table, above). Georgia, Tennessee and a number of other states follow this rule (i.e., the minor must attain the age of majority, at which point he would have the amount of time specified in the statute of limitations; do not assume it is two years, but check the chart, above). In some of these states, however, the minor does not get the full period of limitations when he turns 18 (for example, in South Carolina the statute tolls during minority but upon attaining legal age the minor has only one year to file suit).
In some states, parents and children have different periods of limitations for the same incident. For example, in Ohio a child can bring an injury claim at any time until he or she attains the age of 20. However, Ohio law also says that the claim or suit for the medical bills and other costs has to be brought by the child's parents within 2 years from the date of the injury. That is because the obligation to pay medical bills and costs is an obligation of the parents and not the child. In an Ohio case, therefore, a child can recover for pain, suffering, scars, emotional distress and other similarly intangible losses until she turns 20, but the parent can recover the medical costs only if the lawsuit for those costs is brought within the 2 years. (Minnesota, Texas and a number of other states follow this rule.)
In Virginia, a minor's case tolls until the age of majority, but the parents have to bring their claim for medical expenses within 5 years of the date of the accident. See section 8.01-243 subd. (B) of the Virginia Code.
A few states have a period of limitations that might require both the child and his parents to file a lawsuit before the minor turns 18. For example, in Kansas a minor can bring an action until one year after he or she turns eighteen, but never more than eight years after the accident. (Kansas Statutes 60-515(a).) So a three-year-old would have to file suit by age 11 in Kansas.
The Danger of Interpreting a Statute of Limitations
Statutes of limitations are drastic laws because their purpose is to stop an injured person from obtaining a remedy if the person waits "too long." Because these laws are drastic, the courts and legislatures have created a number of exceptions to them. So the statute that you read isn't necessarily the law you get. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. Here are some examples of anomolies that could hurt you:
- In Oklahoma, there is a dog bite statute that creates strict liability for a first bite, and the statute of limitations for statutory liabilities is 3 years. However, the courts have held that a dog bite victim gets only two years to file suit because the general statute of limitations says two years.
- In Arizona, the general statute of limitations for personal injuries is two years, but only one year for dog bites based on the dog bite statute. The courts strictly enforce the one year limitation.
As you can see, the same principle leads to different conclusions in different states. For that reason, a lawyer must be consulted for the purpose of determining the correct period of limitations in any particular case. Don't give up hope if your own research indicates that you went beyond the time set forth in the statute.
Table of State Laws
List of State Laws
- Alabama - Section 6-2-38
- Alaska - Sec. 9.10.070
- Arizona - Title 12, Article 3
- Arkansas - Sec. 16-56-104
- California - Sec. 335.1
- Colorado - Rev. Stat. Secs. 13-80-102
- Connecticut - Ch. 926 Sec. 52-584
- Delaware- Title 10, Ch. 81
- District of Columbia - Title 12, Ch. 3
- Georgia - Sec. 9-3-33
- Hawaii - Rev. Stat. Secs. 657-4
- Idaho- Title 5, Ch. 2, Sec. 5-219
- Illinois - 735 ILCS 5/13-201, 13-202, 13-212
- Indiana - Title 34, Art. 11, Ch. 2, Sec. 34-11-2-3, 34-11-2-4
- Iowa - Chapter 614, Section 614.1
- Kansas - Chapter 60, Art 5, Sec. 60-513
- Kentucky - Title 36, Chapter 413, Sec. 413.140
- Louisiana - Ci. Code. Art. 3492
- Maine - Title 14, Part 2, Ch. 205
- Maryland - Sec. 5-101
- Massachusetts - Title 5, Ch. 260, Secs. 2A and 4
- Michigan - Chapter 600, Act 236, Ch. 58
- Minnesota - Ch. 541, Sec 541.05, 541.07
- Mississippi - Title 15, Ch. 1, Secs. 15-1-36, 15-1-35, 15-1-49
- Missouri - Title 35, Ch. 516, Secs. 516.105, 516.120, 516.140
- Montana - Title 27, Ch. 2, 27-2-204 and 27-2-207
- Nebraska - Title 25, Section 207, 25-207
- Nevada - Chapter 11, Sec 11.190
- New Hampshire - Title LII, Chapter 508, Sec. 508.4
- New Jersey - Title 2A, Ch. 14, Sec. 2A:14-2, 14-3
- New Mexico - Ch. 37, Art. 1, Sec. 37-1-8
- New York - Art. 2, Secs. 214, 214.s, 215
- North Carolina - Title 1, Section 1-52, 1-54
- North Dakota - Title 28, Ch. 1, Secs. 28-01-16 and 28-01-18
- Ohio - Title 23, Ch. 5, Sec. 2305.10
- Oklahoma - section 12-95(A)(3) (The link will download Chapter 12, where you will find this code section.)
- Oregon - Ch. 12, Secs. 12.110, 12.115, 12.120
- Pennsylvania - 42 PA Con. Stat. Sections 5523, 5524
- Rhode Island - Title 9, Ch. 1, Sec. 9-1-14
- South Carolina - Title 15, Ch. 3, Secs. 15-3-530, 15-3-545, 15-3-550
- South Dakota - Title 15, Ch. 2, Secs. 15-2-14, 15-2-14.1, 15-2-15
- Tennessee - Title 28, Ch. 3, Secs. 28-3-103, 28-3-104
- Texas - Civ. Prac. & Rem Code, Title 2, Ch. 16, Secs. 16.002, 16.003
- Utah - Title 78B, Chapter 02
- Vermont - Title 12, Ch. 23, Secs. 512, 521
- Virginia - Title 8.01, Ch. 4, Sec. 8.01-243. For medical costs see Sec. 8.01-243 subd. (B).
- Washington - Title 4, Ch. 16, Secs. 4.16.080, 4.16.100
- West Virginia - Chapter 55, Sec. 55-2-12
- Wisconsin - Chapter 893, Secs. 893.54, 893.55, 893.57
- Wyoming - Title 1, Ch. 3, Sec. 1-3-105