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How does the statute of limitations work?

Every potential lawsuit has an expiration date.

That expiration date, which is called a case's "statute of limitations" sets the time limit within which you have to file a claim if you've been injured. If you don't assert your legal rights within that time limit, you lose the opportunity entirely.

It's important to understand that where you were when you were injured determines the amount of time you have to file a claim. For example, a resident of New Jersey injured in New Jersey has two years to bring a personal injury claim. However, if a New Jersey resident is in a car accident while traveling through Kentucky, he or she only has one year to file a claim.

The kind of claim you file also affects how long you have to file your claim. For example, a medical malpractice claim often has a different time limit than ordinary personal injury claims.

In addition, medical malpractice is also affected by the "Discovery Rule." The Discovery Rule says that, in essence, you can't always expect someone to know he or she has been injured right away. Some medical injuries take years to show up. Someone defrauded by his or her stockbroker may not know for months or years that he or she has been robbed.

In those cases, the statute doesn't begin its countdown until you either know you were injured or really should know, based on available evidence.

While all of this seems straightforward on paper, it can actually be quite complex -- especially today. For example, a lawsuit was recently won by a couple that used donated eggs for fertility treatments. It wasn't until after their child was born and began to develop that the parents found out that the egg donors hadn't been properly screened for genetic defects.

Did a statute of limitation begin when the child was conceived? Did it begin when the child was born, instead? Since the statute on the case was two years, and the disease began to manifest itself at that time, this was not an unimportant question.

The court ultimately stated a statute of limitations couldn't begin before the child was born and the parents had the ability to see the condition manifest.

If you're unsure if you have a personal injury case of any kind, including medical malpractice, an experienced attorney can help you learn more about your legal options.

Source: FindLaw, "Time Limits to Bring a Case: The 'Statute of Limitations'," accessed Dec. 22, 2017

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