The statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum time frame for parties involved in a legal dispute to file a lawsuit. Depending on the state you live in and the case in question, the statute of limitations timeframe will differ.
Understanding the statute of limitations is important, as it can have a significant impact on your legal rights and remedies. In this article, we will discuss the definition, types, and examples of the statute of limitations.
What is the statute of limitations?
The statute of limitations is a law that sets a time limit for initiating legal proceedings in a civil or criminal case. Once this time limit passes, the plaintiff or prosecutor loses the right to file a lawsuit or bring criminal charges.
The purpose of the statute of limitations is to promote fairness and justice by ensuring that cases are resolved while the evidence is still fresh and the memories of witnesses are still clear. This time limit also prevents debt collectors from harassing borrowers about debt for years to come.
Types of statute of limitations
Depending on the type of case and the jurisdiction, different types of statutes of limitations may apply. Here are some of the most common types:
- Civil. The civil statute of limitations sets a time limit for filing a lawsuit in a civil case, such as a personal injury lawsuit, breach of contract, or property damage claim. The time limit varies depending on the type of case and the state where it’s tried. For example, the statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit in California is two years, while in New York it is three years.
- Criminal. The criminal statute of limitations sets a time limit for prosecuting a crime. The time limit varies depending on the severity of the crime and the state in which it was committed. For example, in California, the statute of limitations for a misdemeanor is one year, while it can be up to ten years for a felony.
- Federal. The federal statute of limitations applies to cases that are tried in federal courts, such as cases involving federal law, interstate commerce, or constitutional issues. The time limit varies depending on the type of case and the federal law in question. For example, the statute of limitations for a federal securities fraud case is five years.
Is there a statute of limitations on debt?
In addition to different types of cases, some states have different statute of limitation terms depending on the type of debt you accumulated. For instance, federal student loan debt doesn’t have a statute of limitations, but private student loans do.
As well as the type of debt you have, the statute of limitations will differ depending on how you agreed to that debt. For example, in most states, an oral agreement (verbal agreement to repay a debt) often has a shorter timeframe than a written contract.
Examples of statute of limitations
To get a better idea of how a statute of limitations may differ drastically depending on the situation, take a look at some of the example situations below.
- Personal injury lawsuit. Suppose you were injured in a car accident in California on January 1, 2021. In this case, you would have two years from the date of the accident — until January 1, 2023 — to file a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible party. If you fail to file the lawsuit within this time frame, your case would be dismissed if you bring it to court.
- Breach of contract. Let’s say you entered into a contract with a vendor to provide goods or services to your business in New York on January 1, 2020. If the vendor fails to perform under the contract, you would have three years from the date of the breach to file a breach of contract lawsuit against the vendor.
- Criminal prosecution. Suppose a person commits a felony offense in Texas on January 1, 2020. In this case, the prosecutor would have up to ten years, until January 1, 2030, to file criminal charges against the offender.
It’s important to be aware of the statute of limitations in your state and consult with an attorney to protect your legal rights.
Why do we have statutes of limitations?
Statutes of limitations exist to protect defendants from the possibility of being sued or charged with a crime long after the evidence disappears or memories fade. This would make it difficult or impossible to present a fair defense. They also encourage plaintiffs to pursue their claims in a timely manner.
What happens if the statute of limitations expires?
If the statute of limitations expires, the defendant can no longer be sued or charged with a crime. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as if the defendant was out of the country or in prison during the time the statute of limitations was running.
Can the statute of limitations be extended?
In some cases, the statute of limitations can be extended. For example, if the plaintiff was a minor at the time of the offense, the statute of limitations may be extended until they reach the age of majority. Additionally, some states passed laws that extend the statute of limitations for certain crimes, such as sexual abuse or assault.
- The statute of limitations sets the maximum time frame for parties involved in a legal dispute to file a lawsuit.
- Having the statute of limitations ensures that lawsuits resolve promptly and that evidence and witnesses are still available.
- The time limits for filing a lawsuit can vary depending on the state and the type of case involved.
- If a plaintiff fails to file a lawsuit within the specified time period, their claim may be dismissed by the court.
View Article Sources
- Statute of Limitations Defenses — U.S. Department of Justice
- Statute of Limitations in Federal Criminal Cases: An Overview — Congressional Research Service
- Statute of Limitations — Legal Match