At What Time Should You File a Personal Injury Claim?

When you are physically injured by another—whether in a fistfight, a car accident, or by a defective product—you may be contemplating the options at your disposal to seek compensation for these injuries. In many cases, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit or even seek class action certification against the defendant to recover compensatory and punitive damages.

However, there are a number of legal and logistical factors that can impact when and whether you file. Read on to learn more about the time limitations to which personal injury lawsuits are subjected, as well as other factors you might wish to consider before filing such a lawsuit.

How much time do you have to file a personal injury lawsuit?

Each type of civil and criminal case has a governing statute of limitations—the time period during which a case can be filed. After the statute of limitations has expired, you are unable to be charged with a crime or civil infraction, as well as unable to recover damages for someone else's act of wrongdoing.

Some crimes, like murder, have no statute of limitations. However, most other cases have these time constraints, both to prevent a backlog in the courts and to allow law enforcement agencies to focus on the newest cases (which are generally more likely to be solved).

In most cases, the statute of limitations begins running as soon as the injury takes place (or in some cases, diagnosed). However, certain personal circumstances can put this statute of limitations on hold for a period of time. For example, if you are injured while in prison or when you're under 18, the statute of limitations will not begin running until after you have left prison or turned 18.

How do you know which state's statute of limitations applies to your case?

Although the statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit varies from state to state, most states have fixed this limit at between 2 and 6 years. In most cases, you're required to file the lawsuit in (and subject to the statute of limitations of) the state in which the injury occurred. For cases involving car accidents or person-to-person physical injuries, this jurisdictional question is easy, the proper venue state is the one in which the accident occurred. Often, this will be the same state in which both you and the potential defendant live.

However, if you were injured by a faulty product manufactured in another state or country, or while riding in a passenger aircraft, determining in which state the case should be filed can be more difficult. In general, you as the plaintiff are able to choose the venue state. The defendant can then file a motion to change venue to a more suitable state, if one exists. The court may grant or deny this motion, based on the strength of the defendant's argument. Once you choose a venue state, you are considered to have waived your rights to file in a different state.

This means that if your injuries did not take place in the same state in which you and the potential defendant reside, you should pay careful attention to the statute of limitations in all states in which the case could potentially be filed. Most courts will not grant a discretionary transfer of venue to a state in which the statute of limitations would bar the case if other venues are available. 

However, if the transfer state is deemed the only state in which jurisdiction is proper, and the case is transferred after the statute of limitations expires, your case may be dismissed. Ultimately, if you call local law firms like Daniels Long & Pinsel, they can analyze your situation and help you know how to act.