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Defenses to Negligence: Statute of Limitations

Even if a plaintiff has all the evidence to prove a case of negligence, the case may still be unsuccessful if the defendant can establish a defense to negligence, such as the statute of limitations. This defense essentially amounts to a claim that plaintiff waited too long to file suit. It often proves fatal to an otherwise actionable case.

Usually, a defendant will raise the statute of limitations in a pre-trial motion or a demurrer at the beginning of the case.

Statute of Limitations

The Statute of Limitations generally refers to a set of laws (usually statutes) which sets the maximum period which one can wait before filing a lawsuit, depending on the type of case or claim. The periods may vary by state in which suit is brought, the type of case (negligence v. contract), type of plaintiff (such as a minor or adult), and the type of defendant (such as a governmental entity).

Federal statutes set the limitations for suits filed in federal courts. If the lawsuit or claim is not filed before the statutory deadline, the right to sue or make a claim is forever dead (barred). The statute of limitations periods may be different by state and type of case, such as personal injury from negligence or intentional wrongdoing, property damage from negligence or intentional wrongdoing, breach of an oral contract, breach of a written contract, professional malpractice, libel, slander, fraud, trespass, a claim against a governmental entity (usually a short time), and other variations.

In some instances a statute of limitations can be extended ("tolled") based on delay in discovery of the injury or on reasonable reliance on a trusted person (a fiduciary or confidential adviser who has hidden his/her own misuse of someone else's funds or failure to pay).

A minor's right to bring an action for injuries due to negligence may be tolled until the minor turns 18 (there are exceptions so check with an attorney regarding your specific claim).

Time is of the essence. If you wish to pursue a claim, it is important to not delay in seeking the advice of an attorney. Because the statute of limitations varies from case to case, it is important to have an attorney specifically review your case to determine that it may be filed timely.

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