Don't Lose Your Rights

Most people have heard the term “statute of limitations,” and have a vague idea that it creates some kind of time limit for legal action. Many people do not realize, however, that when the statute of limitations expires, they will have lost their rights forever, to bring a personal injury lawsuit. Neither the devastating nature of the injuries or loss, nor the righteousness of the action that might have been brought, will save the injury victim’s rights if they let the statute of limitations expire before they file a lawsuit.

Victims of a serious injury, or their family members, often suffer a type of emotional numbness that prevents them from contacting an attorney to explore whether negligence caused their injury or the death of their loved one. Delay in pursuing a serious personal injury case can harm the case even if the statute of limitations has not expired. Witnesses may forget details, die, or move away. Key evidence may be lost, through inadvertence or intentional destruction. Once the statute of limitations expires, though, the right to pursue the case, regardless of how valid the case may be, is forever lost.

Every state has statutes of limitations, that vary according to the type of case. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice and general personal injury cases, is three years from the date of the incident or malpractice that caused injury. There are different rules for minors and people under disabilities. In some cases, the three years may be extended by what is known as the “discovery rule.” This rule suspends the start of the three year period until the injured party knew or reasonably should have known of the negligent act. While the discovery rule can sometimes be employed to save a case that seemed extinguished by the statute of limitations, assertion of the principle is a poor substitute for filing a case on time. No one should be skeptical when they hear an attorney say that the best time to seek counsel after a serious injury due to another party’s negligence, is, as soon as possible. That sound advice is in the best interest of the client. And by all means, be aware of statutes of limitations in your state. Don’t let the time to file a legitimate lawsuit, expire.