Statutes of Limitations

Statutes of limitations are laws that limit the time a person has to file a lawsuit after an event occurs that gives that person a legal claim. For example, in most states, a person who is injured in an automobile collision has two years after the accident in which to file a lawsuit. Ohio law allows a person 6 years to sue for breach of an oral contract and 15 years to sue for breach of a written contract. The Ohio wrongful death law requires a lawsuit to be filed within two years after the death occurs.

The underlying reasons for statutes of limitations are: to ensure fairness to the defendant (the person being sued); to encourage the prompt prosecution of claims; to suppress stale and fraudulent claims; and to avoid the inconvenience caused by delay , including difficulties in older cases of obtaining accurate evidence. Once the statute of limitations “runs” or expires, a person being sued can raise the defense of the statute of limitations. Any lawsuit filed against the defendant after expiration of the statute of limitations that applies to the lawsuit will then be dismissed.

Delayed Discovery Rule
The time period in a statute of limitations usually starts on the date of the injury or event that raises a claim. Under the delayed discovery rule, the statute of limitations does not start to run until the person filing the suit knows of or should have discovered the injury. For example, the delayed discovery rule has been applied to sexual abuse cases in Ohio. The one-year statute of limitations for sexual abuse does not begin to run until the victim recalls or discovers that he or she has been sexually abused. In one case, a victim of childhood sexual abuse had repressed the memories of that abuse until adulthood, and the statute of limitations did not begin to run until that time.

Tolling of Statute of Limitations
There are several instances in which the running of a statute of limitations can be “tolled” or legally suspended. For example, if a minor has a legal claim, the limitations period would not begin to run until the minor becomes an adult. The statute of limitations also may be tolled or suspended while the person having the legal claim is of unsound mind. If the defendant conceals himself or herself or is absent from the area in which the court has jurisdiction, the statute of limitations may be tolled until the defendant is located. Finally, if a defendant files for bankruptcy, the statute of limitations may be tolled until the bankruptcy is resolved.

Statutes of Repose
Statutes of repose set a time period after which a lawsuit cannot be filed for defects or hazards in products or buildings that have been constructed or for will contests in some states. A statute of repose extinguishes a claim after a fixed period of time, which is usually measured from the delivery of the product or the completion of the work. Statutes of repose can prevent lawsuits against the manufacturer of a product or the engineers, architects, and construction contractors who designed and constructed a building. A federal statute of repose provides generally that no civil action for death or injury arising from an aviation accident may be brought against the airplane manufacturer or the manufacturer of any new part of the airplane, if the airplane or part was more than 18 years old at the time of the accident.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.