One of the most common questions when it comes to filing a lawsuit is how long a plaintiff has to file. When you’re considering legal action, there are bound to be many factors to consider before you are ready to bring your case and that can take time. Fortunately, you typically have a good amount of time to weigh all your options. How much, however, depends a lot on what happened and where.

What is a statute of limitations?

The average plaintiff is familiar with the term statute of limitations. But many people have a misunderstanding of just what it means. Failing to understand this basic legal tenet can cause you to lose out in the long run, so it’s important to educate yourself before you make any decisions.

Simply put, a statute of limitations is the amount of time a plaintiff has between the incident and when they file. The average civil suit is likely to be limited by a statute of limitations. If you don’t file your case before that period is over, a judge may dismiss your initial claim. After that, you can forget about filing then or ever.

What’s the statute of limitations on my case?

The statutes of limitations vary depending on the state and the nature of the incident in question. Fortunately, they are often very similar. In New York, for instance, many statutes range from one to six years. A few include:

  • Libel and Slander:  one year
  • Medical Malpractice: 30 months
  • Collection of Debts on Account: six years

There are some exceptions. For recovery of judgements, for instance, the statute in some states can run as long as 20 years.

However long the statute of limitations is concerning your case, it’s important to know that the clock starts ticking on the date of the incident or the date of its discovery.

Why do such statutes exist?

The courts understand that there are many factors at play in the typical civil or criminal case and a wise plaintiff will want to proceed thoughtfully. Nonetheless, the laws are not meant to offer a carte-blanche for endless litigation. Therefore, the courts have created these limitations to encourage plaintiffs to move more quickly to legally resolving their issue.

Statutes of limitation can be tricky. If you have questions about how long you should wait to file a case, be sure to reach out to an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to learn how best to proceed.