Even though lawsuits may be demonized, they serve a good purpose. They allow businesses and individuals to be penalized and punished for negligence, bad behavior, or just plain wrongdoing. The entire legal system places great importance on the recourse available to private citizens, like you, through civil courts. When considering whether or not to file a lawsuit, however, time has to be a consideration. What are known in the legal world as statutes of limitations put a cap on the time period under which a suit can be filed, and its important that you understand what statutes of limitations are when you are considering filing a lawsuit.
What Are Statutes Of Limitations?
Statutes of Limitations basically set a timeframe under which a suit can be filed by a plaintiff against a defendant. That clock begins ticking (most of the time) from the moment the incident in question takes place. Every state has its own statutes, and even within states, the statutes vary by the type of lawsuit. If you're wanting to sue your employer for negligence, for instance, you may have a year or two to file suit. If you're suing a neighbor in a property line dispute, there may be an entirely different time frame attached to that action.
How Do They Impact Me When Considering A Lawsuit?
The statutes regarding the time window within which you can file a lawsuit aren't there to unnecessarily pressure you as a possible plaintiff. Rather, they exist to allow for an orderly flow of cases through the civil courts system. The courts also recognize that with the passage of time, evidence and its reliability begin to degrade. Memories fade, documents disappear, people who can vouch for your side of things move away. Don't think of statutes of limitations as a constraint or penalty, then. Rather, understand that they exist to give you, the plaintiff (or if you're ever the defendant in a suit) the best possible chance to make your case based on evidence.
Ways To Extend A Statute Of Limitations Deadline
Now earlier you were told that a statute of limitations on a potential lawsuit begins the day some sort of incident happens. This is called the "date of harm" in legalese. However sometimes it's hard to tell when that harm might have occurred. Maybe a back injury at work doesn't flare up for a few months. You get diagnosed, your employer refuses to treat it like a work injury, and where do you stand?
In this case, there's an override of the statutes of limitations called the discovery rule. This simply states that the clock may not start ticking until you as a plaintiff could be expected to reasonably notice harm. This "discovery" of harm done to you will extend the statute for you if it applies, and may relieve the pressure of your decision-making process. For example, if you were injured in a car accident, but were unable to make it to the doctor to get diagnosed with injuries, time towards the statutes of limitations for your personal injury case will feasibly start at the date you visited the doctor.
Ideally, When Should I Sue?
If you're considering taking legal action, the short answer to this question is simply to pursue a suit as soon as you feel it is the only way to resolve a situation. As a longer answer, depending on the situation of your potential lawsuit the courts may require you to show a good-faith effort to resolve the situation with the other party outside the courts.
That doesn't mean you should risk spending too much time doing that, however. Trust your own instincts, and if it seems like the other side is stalling, being unresponsive, or even hostile to your requests, that's the point where you should do a preliminary consultation with a personal injury attorney. He or she will advise you how to proceed in a timely manner that gets your suit rolling well before any concern with statutes of limitations kick in.
If you have been harmed in some way and have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit, you should never stall or feel ashamed about considering that avenue as a possibility. The statutes of limitations will give you time to make an informed decision about whether and when to sue. They also exist to provide a fair opportunity for you to present your case and fight for the compensation you deserve.