A statute of limitations is the limit on how long after an injury occurs in which the injured victim may bring suit. In other words, the statute of limitations is the amount of time that you have to sue someone after they’ve hurt you. Once the statute of limitations runs out, the victim loses any rights to seek compensation from the wrongdoer.
The statute of limitations can be longer or shorter, depending on the state, and depending on the case that is being brought. In Pennsylvania, for injuries based on negligence, such as car accidents, slip and fall cases, or other cases in which someone’s failure to observe reasonable standards of care led to an injury, the statute of limitations is two years. For breach of contract, the statute of limitations is four years. In some rather unusual cases, such as lesser known common-law causes of action, the statute of limitations is six years. For claims related to privacy and defamation, the statute of limitations is only one year.
There are some exceptions to the statute of limitations bar against a lawsuit. One is called the discovery rule. If the victim did not know or have a reason to know about the injury until after the statute of limitations has run, the statute of limitations may be “tolled” or delayed to allow the victim a longer stretch of time within which to bring suit. The discovery rule is narrow, and fairly limited in Pennsylvania. It will only revive the statute of limitations long enough for the person to bring suit within a reasonable time. In extremely unusual situations where a wrongdoer has intentionally misled someone about their statute of limitations, courts will sometimes invoke the “equitable tolling” doctrine which allows someone to bring suit within a reasonable time after they’ve learned of the statute of limitations. This also is a rare situation, and neither of these exceptions should be relied on by a victim except in the most exceptional of situations.
The bottom line is you typically have a fairly limited amount of time in which to bring a lawsuit if you wish to bring one. Your rights do not remain open forever and you can lose them if you don’t act quickly. Having a litigation lawyer who understands the statutes of limitations in Pennsylvania and the various equitable doctrines built on them can help you determine in which category your case properly falls. For example, depending on the type of car accident you were in, your lawsuit may actually be a breach of contract action against an insurer. Having an attorney who can walk you through these sorts of distinctions may mean the difference between successfully bringing suit or not bringing suit at all. Regardless, you’re encouraged to discuss your rights immediately with an attorney if you believe that you or a loved one have been harmed by someone else’s actions or negligence. A litigation attorney can help you sort through the many complex legal doctrines that will affect your case and help you to understand your rights. Call the attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm today and let us help you determine your rights.