If you have been hurt because of someone else’s negligence or carelessness, you deserve compensation for your personal injuries. But no matter how much concrete proof you have, you could lose your case if you file too late. Missouri has strict deadlines, called statutes of limitations, on personal injury claims. In most cases, the time limit is 5 years, but there are some exceptions. Simply waiting too long to do something about your accident could jeopardize your chances of getting any payment at all.
What is a Statute, and Why Do They Exist?
A statute is a law. A statute of limitations is the law that dictates a length of time to act on a legal matter. For example, some crimes have statutes of limitations, meaning a person can not be prosecuted if a certain number of years have passed since the crime.
Similar rules apply to personal injury cases. If the time runs out, the court will almost always deny a victim’s claim for compensation.
The reason that federal and state governments have statutes of limitation is to ensure an efficient and timely legal process. It helps keep important witness testimony and evidence fresh and current. If there were no statutes, a person could threaten someone with a lawsuit indefinitely. A statute of limitations keeps things moving along.
Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury
Personal injury lawsuits brought in civil court fall into two categories: Cases where injuries are due to negligence (car accidents, slip and falls) or intentional tort (assault or other deliberate acts). Intentional tort cases deal with only the civil court. Criminal prosecution of intentional acts is a separate matter that would be handled by law enforcement.
The statute of limitations in Missouri for both types of situations is 5 years from the date of the injury. There is an exception to the start date called the Discovery Rule. The Discovery Rule allows the 5 year clock to begin when the injury is first noticed, or should have been noticed. This rule acknowledges the fact that some accident victims have delayed injuries that do not show up right away. This delay might only adjust the deadline for the statute of limitations on personal injury by a few days or weeks, but it is an important point to note.
Pausing or Delaying the Clock
Five years might seem like plenty of time to find an attorney and file a claim. But that time can go by fast, especially for someone who has been in a car accident or other personal injury incident. Victims are understandably focussed on their recovery. They may be in the hospital or rehabilitation facility for a long time as they heal and get back to normal life. Serious injuries that leave the person disabled take even more recuperation and time to adjust to a new way of living and getting around.
Unfortunately, the person’s rate of recovery does not change the statute of limitations. With the exception of delayed symptoms as mentioned above, there are only three things that can delay or pause the clock as the five year mark approaches:
If the victim is under 21 years of age, or is mentally incapacitated, the statute of limitations on personal injury is extended. The 5 year limit begins when they turn 21, or when they are declared competent. It is not required that a lawsuit has to wait that long. A parent or legal guardian can file a claim on their behalf before that time if they wish.
The statute of limitations can be paused if the defendant who caused the injury is a resident of Missouri and leaves the state after the accident, but before the suit is filed. The “clock” stops while they are gone. For example, if they leave for 2 months, the plaintiff will have 5 years and 2 months from the accident date to file.
Other Exceptions to the Time Limit
There are a few unusual cases where the normal 5 year statute of limitations on personal injury does not apply.
Incidents that happen on government or public property have statute of limitations of only 90 days in Missouri. So, if you are hurt on the Arch grounds, or in Forest Park, you must act quickly to file a claim. These claims go through the Office of Administration’s Risk Management Division rather than a typical civil court. They are also harder to prove unless the conditions that caused the accident are considered unreasonably dangerous.
While a person injured in an accident has 5 years to file a lawsuit, fatal accidents are different. Surviving family members can file a wrongful death suit on behalf of a deceased loved one. The statute of limitations for wrongful death is 3 years. A victim might succumb to their injuries some time after the accident. The 3-year timeframe starts on the date of death rather than the date of the accident.
Why You Can’t Be Late
Getting hurt due to someone else’s carelessness or negligence can take time to overcome. Healing from physical injuries and trauma is one part of the process. Getting compensation to pay for the medical bills, lost wage, and possibly pain and suffering is another.
For any chance to be compensated after an accident it is essential to get an initial complaint filed in court before the statute of limitations runs out. Plaintiff’s can attempt to file at any time. But if it is after the 5 year limit, the defendant’s attorney simply has to file a motion to dismiss. The court will grant the dismissal unless there is a valid reason under the Discovery Rule, the plaintiff’s age or mental state, or if it can be proven that the defendant left Missouri.
The best way to ensure that a claim is filed on time is to find an experienced personal injury attorney like Hipskind & McAninch. Building a case and filing the proper documents is time consuming and complicated. It is not something that should be tackled alone.