Statute of Limitations: Guide to Statute of Limitations in Civil Litigation

News » Statute of Limitations: Guide to Statute of Limitations in Civil Litigation

Disclaimer: Statute of limitations vary state-by-state and case-by-case. This is by no means a definitive guide to the statute of limitations. The purpose of this guide is to help you better understand what statute of limitations are, how they work, and when they are applied.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

statute of limitations

The statute of limitations (SoL) is a statute prescribing a period of limitation for the bringing of certain kinds of legal action.

In layman's terms, SoL limits the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a complaint to initiate a lawsuit after an accident, injury or another incident. Statute of limitations differ state-by-state, and even within each state, statutory limitations vary for different types of cases.

What is the Purpose of the Statute of Limitations?

The purposes of an established statute of limitations (SOL) are to disallow lawsuits from hanging on indefinitely (1) and to keep evidence fresh (2):

  • If there was not an established SoL, the party at fault could constantly be threatened by the potential for a lawsuit. The injured party could file a lawsuit at any time, be it one week or 20 years after the incident.
  • If too much time passed after the incident, evidence would begin to "go bad". Physical evidence could literally go bad, become lost or misplaced, or be thrown out. Non-physical evidence, such as testimony, is more likely to be altered or forgotten with the passing of time.

What are the Types of the Statute of Limitations?

Statutes of limitations apply to nearly all types of cases.

There are two (2) types of SoL - a criminal statute of limitations (1) and the civil statute of limitations (2):

  1. Criminal Statute of Limitations – Criminal charges have to be issued within a certain period of time. Generally, misdemeanor crimes hold shorter SoL timelines. More serious offenses carry a longer SoL. Most serious felony cases have an SoL.
  2. Civil Statute of Limitations – Generally, civil SoL varies considerably depending on the specific type of case. For example, in Illinois, the SoL for written contract cases is 10 years while the SoL for libel or slander cases is 1 year. This varies for district and types of civil litigation.

Statute of Limitations for Minors

It is important to note that there is a specific limitations period for crimes or offenses involving minors and for incidents involving wrongful death in the United States.

In the State of Illinois, if a person is under the age of 18 at the time of the incident, the individual can file a lawsuit within two years after they turn 18, or their 20th birthday.

A wrongful death has similar circumstances to the normal statute of limitations, however, there is one vital difference. For instance, if medical malpractice occurred and the patient died, the family of the victim can file a wrongful death lawsuit within the time limit set for that particular case, or within one year of the date of death, "whichever date is the later".

When Does the Statute of Limitations Start?

Again, the Statute of Limitations varies depending on the state you live in and the nature of your case, so this guide may not be wholly applicable to your case. Your best option is to consult with a personal injury attorney to make sure that you file a complaint within the allotted time for your case's SoL so that the legal proceedings are on track. Generally, the SoL timer starts ticking down the moment that an incident occurs.

Example:

  • You are walking down the sidewalk. A motorist isn't paying attention and swerves off the road, striking you. You are injured as a result of the accident. In your state, the SoL for this kind of accident is 2 years. This means that from the moment the accident occurs, you have 2 years to initiate a lawsuit.

For more ambiguous incidents, the best rule of thumb to follow is that the SoL clock starts ticking at the moment that an individual knows OR should have known about an injury or potential for injury.

Example:

  • You are taking prescription medication to treat type-2 diabetes. A few months after you begin taking the medication, you develop a rare kidney condition. Weeks later, the FDA releases a public alert warning that type-2 diabetes medication is linked to the same kidney condition. Your SoL would likely start on the day that the FDA released the public alert, whether you were aware of the alert or not — because you "know or should have known."

Looking at this example, it is important to understand that your state's SoL may be different. In some states, the SoL clock may start ticking the day that you learned that you have developed the kidney condition. In other states, the SoL clock would start on the day that you stop taking your medication. Point being, the SoL clock generally starts on either the day that you were made aware of the potential for harm or adverse events, or the day that an effort was made to make you aware of the potential for harm or adverse events.

How Do I Find out My State's Statute of Limitations Restrictions?

While you could do the research on your own, you are best off consulting a personal injury attorney. The statute of limitations is not generalized, cut and dry.

There is a multitude of variables that come into play when considering how long you have to initiate a lawsuit, such as:

  • Where did the incident occur?
  • When did you know, or when should you have known about the incident?
  • What type of case is it?

Sexual Offenses and Statute of Limitations

There is some controversy surrounding the statute of limitations and sexual offenses. Due to the nature of sexual offenses, victims are often reluctant to come forward, whether its due to the trauma they've experienced, they knew the perpetrator, or simply because they did not realize they were a victim of a sexual crime in the first place.

The time frame that limits when a victim can come forward is seen as restrictive. In response, states have begun doing away with a statute of limitations for crimes of a sexual nature. New York state set the precedent and other states soon followed. Most recently, Illinois lifted the statute of limitations on numerous sex crimes including criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal assault, or aggravated criminal sexual abuse. The law went into effect on January 1, 2020.

TorHoerman Law Can Help

If you have any questions or concerns about your case and laws on Statutes of Limitations, contact us. Our firm offers free no-obligation case consultations, and we would be happy to talk to you about the statute of limitations for your potential case.

Learn More About the Lawsuit Process:

“Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/) Code of Civil Procedure.” Illinois Compiled Statutes, Illinois General Assembly, www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?ActID=2017&ChapterID=56&SeqStart=99900000&SeqEnd=103300000.

Folley, Aris. “Illinois Eliminates Statute of Limitations for Sex Crimes.” TheHill, Capitol Hill Publishing Corp., A Subsidiary of News Communications, Inc., 27 July 2019, thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/455024-illinois-eliminates-statue-of-limitations-for-sex-crimes.

“Statute of Limitations.” The Free Dictionary, Farlex, legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/statute+of+limitations.

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