Statute of Limitations on Personal Injury: What You Need To Know

Personal injury encompasses a wide range of harm to an individual’s body, mental health, or reputation. It arises when the at-fault party fails to perform their duty of care toward the victims. 

The harm injured parties incur can be intentional or unintentional. Regardless of nature, they leave a significant impact on victims and society. 

The National Safety Council recorded over 62 million personal injuries in 2021, ranging from slight to fatal injuries. Out of the many categories, auto accidents are the deadliest and most prevalent form of personal injury.

Victims often suffer devastating consequences. It is only right they file a personal injury lawsuit and demand compensation for their injuries and losses. 

Before filing, interested parties should learn the technicalities involved. One key aspect to know is the statute of limitations on personal injury cases. Failure to comply with the timeframe set by law may cause the claim’s dismissal despite having solid pieces of evidence.

Studying the law can be challenging, especially when reliable resources are scarce. The Personal Injury Center has an e-library of updated and credible legal articles. We draft our content to be accessible to all readers, even those without an intensive legal background.

Key Takeaways
  • The statute of limitations sets the maximum allowable period a party may file a lawsuit.
  • Statutes of limitations often range from two to five years from the accident date.
  • Parties may suspend the statute of limitations through a process called tolling.

What is the statute of limitations? 

The statute of limitations in tort law is a legal principle that sets the maximum time limit for parties to initiate legal actions. It applies to criminal and civil lawsuits and can be part of specific legislation or treated as common law in certain jurisdictions.

Failure to observe the time limit set by the statute of limitations may forever bar a party from filing a case with the exact cause of action. Courts strictly enforce this rule. Although exceptions exist, they are only allowable under specific circumstances. For instance, courts will only accept cases filed beyond the statute of limitations to serve the interest of justice.   

The earliest records of a statute of limitations date back to Ancient Greece. Back then, all crimes except murder had a five-year filing deadline. The Romans also incorporated this rule into their legal system.

Although the format of statutes of limitations changed over time, its primary purpose remains consistent: protecting would-be defendants. Litigations are arduous, time-consuming, and expensive, and this legal principle aims to prevent malicious or unjust lawsuits.

When there is no expiration date for filing a case, defendants will forever worry about defending themselves. Moreover, the memory of witnesses and the quality of evidence may deteriorate over time. By implementing a limited yet reasonable timeframe, parties can settle whatever legal claim they have while balancing the need for timely resolutions.

Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Cases 

There is no standard statute of limitations applicable to all cases. Each type of claim has a specific time limit that injured parties should know. 

Car accident 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 2.5 million road crashes in 2021. The statistics showed a 9.4 percent increase from 2020. Given the costs of medical treatment and car repairs, victims should consider filing a personal injury lawsuit.

Victims of auto accidents typically have two to four years to raise a legal claim against erring drivers. The reckoning period begins from the date of the motor vehicle crash. 


Victims of slip-and-fall incidents may seek compensation for medical bills and rehabilitation costs. In addition, injured parties may seek monetary relief for non-physical suffering, such as mental anguish and reduced quality of life. 

To succeed in a claim, victims should establish the defendant’s negligence in keeping the plaintiff safe. 

Most victims may file a personal injury lawsuit within two to four years. The countdown of the filing period’s expiration begins on the day the accident occurred. 

Medical malpractice 

Medical malpractice is a cause of action you can raise against negligent medical institutions, healthcare professionals, and their staff. It involves patients suffering injuries or even death.

Parties intending to file medical malpractice claims may have two to five years from the occurrence of the medical negligence. However, some states have separate laws governing medical malpractice. It’s best to review the provisions of these statutes before filing any action.

Work accident 

Employees must establish another party’s negligence caused their injuries to file personal injury claims. If nobody is at fault, initiating a worker’s compensation claim would be the appropriate course of action. 

In a worker’s compensation claim, the employer or insurance company will pay for the employee’s treatment, rehabilitation, and other needs.

The statute of limitations for work-related personal injuries and worker’s compensation claims typically begins on the accident date. 

Product liability 

A product liability lawsuit seeks to hold designers, manufacturers, and distributors accountable for a product defect. Claimants must prove negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty fitness as one of their causes of actions. They may also demand damages for their injuries and the cost of the defective products.

The state law providing a timeframe for defective product claims will prevail over the generic statute of limitations for personal injuries. 

Animal bite 

Annually, around 30 to 50 people die because of dog bites. Victims of animal bites may experience health complications such as cellulitis, osteomyelitis, meningitis, nerve injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Injured parties may have two to three years to file for a personal injury suit after suffering from an animal bite. 

Premises liability 

Accident victims may file a premises liability claim against property owners for their injuries sustained on their premises. Claimants must prove the property owner did not exercise their reasonable duty to keep their premises safe. The property owner’s lack of diligence and negligence created unsafe conditions for others, causing injuries.

Claimants typically have four years to file a legal action. The time limit starts running from the accident date.  

Wrongful death 

A wrongful death lawsuit may arise when a party’s negligence or breach of their legal duty results in the victim’s death. This type of claim is common in all personal injuries, especially motor vehicle accidents.

Most state laws allow survivors a two-year timeframe from the victim’s death to file a legal action. Depending on the state, the allowable period is usually extended when the government is at fault for the victim’s death.

What is tolling?

Tolling is the suspension or delay of the running of a statute of limitations. Even if the time for filing has passed, parties may still file a lawsuit against erring parties. It gives parties more time to decide whether to initiate legal action.

Parties should understand that while tolling is disruptive, it does not lift the statute of limitations. Its effects are temporary and fixed for a specific period. 

There are two types of tolling: statutory and equitable. Statutory tolling extends the filing period under a different law. In contrast, equitable tolling grants an extension of the filing period to parties who, despite due diligence, failed to discover the injury during the limitations period.

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

Courts may apply the statute of limitations strictly, but it is not absolute. Laws allow exceptions to prevent the miscarriage of justice, such as the following:

Discovery rule

The discovery rule prevents the commencement of the allowable filing period until the plaintiff discovers the wrongdoing of the at-fault party. The filing period resumes when the court finds time has passed for the plaintiff to have reasonably discovered the other party’s fault. This rule may apply due to a specific law or common law principles.

The defendant is out of state

The statute of limitations may be suspended when the defendant is outside the court’s jurisdiction. The defendant may have fled elsewhere to escape litigation. If courts allow the filing period to pass, it will give erring parties an unfair advantage and bypass the law.   

Victim suffers from a continuing harm

A party suffering from a series of continuing wrongs may toll the running of the statute of limitations. The continuous harm victims face may prevent them from filing a lawsuit immediately after the initial injury. Not allowing this exception will result in a miscarriage of justice.

The injured party is legally incapacitated

Parties suffering from a legal incapacity may toll the running of the statute of limitations. This exception commonly applies to minors or underaged individuals. In some states, the filing time frame will run once again after the plaintiff reaches the age of majority. 

Have you recently been injured in an accident?

How Not To Miss the Statute of Limitations 

Failing to initiate a personal injury lawsuit within the timeframe set by the statute of limitations is a simple mistake with heavy consequences. Even attorneys with extensive legal experience can make this error. 

The following tips can help you manage the time limits provided by the law:

Know your case

Before filing a lawsuit, know the details of your case. Determine the type of case you have and familiarize yourself with the applicable statute of limitations. This information will help you adjust your timeline and build a robust case within the allowable period. 

Draft a to-do list

Try to be as organized as possible. Create a to-do list of things to prepare for the filing, like the filing fee and the initiatory pleading. Ensure all requirements are ready to avoid complications that could negatively affect your chances of winning the case.  

Calendar relevant dates

In addition to creating a to-do list, use a calendar to keep track of all relevant dates. Schedule your litigation-related activities ahead of time to keep you from being double-booked and ruining your other appointments. Utilize mobile applications to set reminders about your upcoming events. Doing so will help make schedule adjustments easier. 

File the personal injury claim in advance

Rushing into things increases the likelihood of committing mistakes. Likewise, mishandling lawsuit requirements can lead to legal complications and delays. So take your time. Stay calm and process your lawsuit ahead of the statute of limitations. 

Partner with a responsible personal injury attorney

Work with a lawyer who can build a dynamic attorney-client relationship and actively advocates your legal rights. You don’t have to be alone in handling the case. Being supported by legal experts could make you feel less pressured and more confident about the case’s outcomes.

Statute of Limitations vs. Laches vs. Statute of Repose 

When discussing statutes of limitations, it is crucial to understand the principles of laches and statute of repose. These legal concepts may also affect the ability of parties to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Laches is the equitable doctrine that prevents a party from instigating a case when they deliberately file at a later period. The plaintiff’s untimeliness may prevent defendants from fully protecting themselves during the trial. 

As for the statute of repose, it bars the filing of a case upon the happening of a specific event, even before the plaintiff suffers injuries. For example, the time limit would run after the construction company finishes with the plaintiff’s house project.

Did you know?

The three states with the shortest statute of limitations for personal injury are Tennessee, Kentucky, and Louisiana. These states set a filing deadline of one year from the accrual of the cause of action.

File Your Claim Within the Time Limit With a Reliable Personal Injury Lawyer

The statute of limitations is a crucial factor litigants should consider before filing a case. Filing beyond the allowable period would make a lawsuit invalid. In effect, the parties may no longer pursue legal action.

It is ideal for interested parties to seek legal support to avoid mistakes when filing a personal injury lawsuit. Initiating legal actions requires total commitment. A competent attorney can guide you through every step and maximize your chances of gaining a favorable court decision.

We can help you contact the best personal injury lawyers in town. Take the Personal Injury Center’s free case evaluation so we can assess your case and introduce you to our top recommended lawyers. 

Seek legal advice to avoid errors when applying the statute of limitations for cases. The Personal Injury Center can connect you with competent lawyers to work on your case.

FAQs on Statute of Limitations on Personal Injury

No. Once the statute of limitation sets in, your case becomes moot and academic. Parties who did not file their lawsuits on time can no longer file a claim with the exact cause of action.

The statute of limitations only affects lawsuits, not insurance claims. However, it does not mean that insurance claims do not have their own deadlines. Failing to file a timely insurance claim may result in the denial of compensation.

Litigants may choose to represent themselves in court. However, hiring a personal injury attorney is the safer choice. After all, you will partner with an expert with years of legal training and experience. A lawyer will ensure you have effective legal representation.