If you’ve been injured due to the negligence of another person, you probably already know that you can file a lawsuit for damages. You may be able to claim the cost of your medical expenses, your lost wages while you were out of work recovering, and monetary compensation for your pain and suffering. If an injury isn’t your fault, you shouldn’t have to bear the burden. However, the law limits the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. If you wait too long, you may lose your right to sue.
What Is A Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a law limiting the amount of time an injured party has to sue. It’s designed to limit liability for the party at fault so that you can’t be sued for something that happened a long time ago. Many civil and criminal offenses have their own, specific statute of limitations and some have no limit, meaning that you can sue for those offenses at any time. In North Carolina, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is 3 years. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-52.
The 3-year clock starts counting at the time the injury is or should have been apparent, whichever is earlier. In other words, if you’re in a car crash and your leg is broken, you know right away that you’ve been injured and the clock starts from that day.
If you’re in a car crash and develop problems with your back a few weeks later as a result, the clock starts from the day the injury manifests. That means that even if you don’t realize right away that the injury was linked to the crash but you should have realized it, the clock runs from that time.
If the statute of limitations has “run,” or ended, you no longer have the right to sue. The statute of limitations applies no matter how serious your injuries or how grievous the error of the party at fault. It’s a strict rule and the courts regularly throw out cases over it.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations
Under certain circumstances, the strict statute of limitations may not apply. If, for example, you were injured as a minor, your 3-year clock doesn’t start until you’re 18. The law is designed to ensure you get a fair shot at suing for compensation even if your parents decline to sue on your behalf. A few other rules can also extend the statute of limitations.
The Discovery Rule
Sometimes, like a sore back after a car crash, an injury can take a while to manifest. Sometimes, it can take a long time. Take, for example, cases involving mesothelioma from asbestos exposure. The asbestos exposure causes the disease, but it can take decades to develop. That’s well after the statute of limitations.
The discovery rule protects people whose injuries or side effects take a long time to develop. Under the discovery rule, you’re not held to the strict statute of limitations if you couldn’t have known about the injury. You just have to file within a reasonable amount of time of the injury manifesting. A “reasonable” amount of time can mean different things to different judges, so it’s best to act quickly if you’ve developed an injury. Contact a personal injury attorney immediately to get the ball rolling.
Tolling of the Statute
In addition to the discovery rule, you may be able to extend the statute of limitations by arguing that it has tolled. When the statute “tolls,” it means that it’s effectively put on hold for some reason.
The rules on injuries to minors stem from this idea – the statute of limitations tolls until the injured party turns 18. Other events can cause the statute to toll, too. If the injured party is mentally incompetent at the time of the injury, the statute tolls until she recovers.
The statute will also toll if the defendant files for bankruptcy. The time the defendant spends in the bankruptcy process isn’t counted in the statute of limitations, meaning months or years can be added depending on the type of bankruptcy the defendant files.
What To Do
If you’ve been injured through the fault of another person in North Carolina, the best move is to talk to a personal injury attorney right away. Even if the statute hasn’t yet run, it’s best to start proceedings while the evidence is still fresh. In addition, the sooner you start the lawsuit, the sooner you get your compensation. Schedule a consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys today. We’ll work with you to determine whether a lawsuit is the right option for you and we’ll help you fight to the end for the compensation you deserve.