Understanding the Statute of Limitations and Your Personal Injury Case
Each state has a statute of limitations that apply in personal injury cases.
The Limitations of Personal Actions statute of the Trial, Judgment, and Appeal Title of the state code clearly defines the deadlines for filing a lawsuit in a personal injury case.
It also contains information regarding exceptions to the general rule.
What is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In most personal injury cases in Texas, you have two years from the accident or the injury date to file a lawsuit.
The statute of limitations applies to any civil claim for injury filed in Texas.
Examples of civil claims for personal injury that are covered by the statute of limitations include:
- Motor vehicle accidents, including car accidents, bicycle accidents, motorcycle crashes, pedestrian accidents, and truck accidents
- Workplace accidents, such as maritime accidents, construction accidents, oil rig accidents, and industrial plant accidents
- Slips and falls, dog bites, and other premises liability claims
- Medical malpractice claims
- Dangerous drugs and other defective products
- Claims related to nursing home abuse and neglect
If you do not file your lawsuit seeking damages within two years after the injury or accident, you lose your right to assert you are entitled to compensation from those responsible for causing your injury. When a lawsuit is filed after the statute of limitations expires, the defendant has an affirmative defense to the lawsuit.
The court will dismiss the lawsuit if the defendant files a motion stating the statute of limitations has expired.
The Texas deadline for filing personal injury lawsuits is similar to the deadlines in other states. A few states have shorter deadlines, while some states have longer deadlines. The important thing to remember is that if your injury occurred in Texas, you must follow the Texas statute of limitations.
Is the Statute of Limitations Different for Cases Involving Government Entities or Agencies?
If your injury case involves a government employee, government vehicle, or occurs on government property, you might have an injury claim against a government entity. A state, county, or city agency could be liable for your damages. However, suing the government is a complicated task.
Special rules apply when you sue the government.
First, you must overcome sovereign immunity.
Sovereign immunity states that you cannot sue the government unless the government gives you permission to sue. In Texas, the Texas Tort Claims Act waives sovereign immunity for specific acts of negligence that result in personal injury.
However, the Texas Tort Claims Act requires that you file a notice of claim within six months of the date of injury. The notice of claim must be filed with the appropriate government entity and contain specific information. If you do not file a notice of claim within six months, you could lose your right to file a personal injury lawsuit against the government.
BEWARE! Your time to file a notice of claim against a government entity could be even shorter. Local municipalities might have shorter deadlines than state agencies.
For example, the City of Houston requires you to file a notice of claim within 90 days of your injury. Therefore, if you are injured in a city parking garage or a city-owned building, you have just three months to file your notice of claim to protect your right to sue the city for damages.
Furthermore, your notice of claim must contain precise information to be valid. For example, your notice of claim must contain a doctor’s narrative, copies of medical bills, accident reports, and other documentation. The notice must be served on the City Attorney’s Office and the City’s Secretary’s Office.
Whenever a personal injury claim involves a government entity, it is best to contact a personal injury lawyer immediately. Your lawyer takes care of calculating deadlines for filing claims and lawsuits. Your attorney prepares and files the required notices to protect you right to pursue a lawsuit if you desire.
Are There Exceptions to the Texas Statutes of Limitations?
There are two exceptions to the statute of limitations that could apply in your case. The first exception is the “tolling” of the statute of limitations. Tolling means that the deadline to file a personal injury lawsuit is extended. For example, when the accident victim is a child, the statute of limitations does not begin until the victim turns 18 years old.
The minor has until his or her 20th birthday to file a personal injury lawsuit.
The second exception is the Discovery Rule. The Discovery Rule might apply when the injury is not known immediately or cannot be linked to a specific date.
For example, exposure to a toxic chemical might not result in an immediate injury. However, if the person develops cancer ten or 15 years later, the statute of limitations might begin from the date the person discovers he or she has cancer.
The Discovery Rule is difficult to prove. The victim has the burden of linking the injury directly to the event. The victim must also demonstrate that a reasonable person would not have known about the injury or harm until now.
There are also exceptions to the statute of limitations in some cases involving fraud. The statute of limitations might also be tolled when the victim has a mental or physical impairment that prevents them from filing a lawsuit within the two-year period.
You should never count on an exception to the statute of limitations. The exceptions are narrowly defined, and your claim might not fall within an exception.
Instead, it is best to speak with a personal injury lawyer right now. Do not wait. Waiting to talk with a lawyer could result in losing the right to hold the party responsible for your injury financially liable for your damages.
Why Does the State Have a Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims?
You might question why the state imposes a deadline for filing a personal injury claim. The primary purpose of a statute of limitations is to ensure that claims are resolved promptly. Individuals should not be required to defend themselves for alleged claims that occurred decades in the past.
Also, requiring individuals to file claims promptly reduces the risk that evidence is lost or destroyed. Eyewitness testimony can change because individuals forget critical details of the case. Their memories fade and become inaccurate.
Statutes of limitations also prevent people from filing claims to harass another party based on incidents that occurred in the distant past. For example, a person is angry about a current situation that has no legal cause of action. Therefore, the person files a lawsuit based on something that occurred ten years ago to harass the party.
Statutes of limitations also prevent the courts from having backlogs of cases involving issues that occurred years in the past. The cases before the court involve issues that occurred within a few years ago.
Do Not Wait to Contact an Attorney
Waiting too long to contact a personal injury attorney could result in the loss of legal rights. Even though you have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit for an injury, it does not mean you should wait to contact a lawyer.
Your case could involve an exception to the general two-year statute of limitations. Waiting to talk to a lawyer could mean you miss a filing deadline.
Also, having a lawyer involved in your case as soon as possible means that you have someone searching for and preserving evidence needed to prove your claim. A lawyer might be able to avoid a lawsuit by negotiating a fair settlement for your personal injury claim, which could save you time and money.