A statute of limitations, enacted by every state, sets the deadline by which you must either file a lawsuit or permanently abandon your claim. The main reasons for these deadlines are (i) to prevent courts from having to deal with old cases; and (ii) to avoid litigating cases using stale evidence.
What Happens if You Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline?
If you miss the statute of limitations deadline and no exception applies, your personal injury claim will die. If you try to sue on it, the opposing party will motion the court to dismiss your claim for failure to meet the statute of limitations deadline.
The court will certainly uphold the motion, and it will throw your claim out of court. At that point, you won’t even be able to negotiate a settlement. Without the ability to enforce your claim in court, your bargaining power will be zero.
Texas Personal Injury Statute of Limitations
The Texas personal injury statute of limitations is two years after the date of the injury unless an exception applies. Several exceptions do apply, however—please see below.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations Deadline
The Texas statute of limitations deadline includes several exceptions that can delay the deadline, sometimes for years. Don’t assume a certain deadline, as calculating the statute of limitations deadline can be tricky. Speak to a lawyer who is familiar with the facts of your case.
Suing the Texas State Government
A time-honored principle of jurisprudence states that you cannot sue the government for money damages without its permission. The reason is obvious when you think about it. Since the government gets its money from taxpayers, if you sue the government, you are suing all taxpayers (perhaps even including yourself).
The Texas Tort Claims Act allows you to sue Texas state and local entities for personal injury claims. Texas imposes certain conditions on your ability to sue the government, however.
One of these conditions is that before filing a lawsuit, you must send the government defendant a “notice of claim” within 180 days after the injury occurred. You must still comply with the general two-year statute of limitations deadline to file a lawsuit.
Suing a Local Government
Before you can sue a local government entity (such as a city), you must file a local claim within the deadline set by local law. This deadline might be less than 180 days. As with state government lawsuits, you still have to comply with the general statute of limitations deadline to file a lawsuit.
Wrongful Death Claims
A wrongful death claim is what a personal injury claim becomes if a personal injury victim dies from their injuries. Since a dead person cannot enforce a claim, it is the victim’s spouse, children, and parents who can file the claim.
The statute of limitations clock still runs for two years, but it doesn’t start ticking until the day the victim dies. That might be the day of the accident (for instance, if death was instantaneous), or it might be years later.
The Discovery Rule
In Texas, the statute of limitations clock doesn’t begin ticking until you become aware (or should have become aware) that you have a personal injury claim. For example, it is hard not to know you have a personal injury claim if someone else causes a car accident that breaks your leg.
It is a different story, however, if a doctor accidentally leaves a medical instrument inside your body after surgery. You might not know about that for months or even years. As long as you exercise reasonable diligence, the statute of limitations clock doesn’t begin running until you discover your claim.
Otherwise, the clock begins running on the date that you should have discovered your claim. The discovery rule typically applies to medical malpractice claims.
The Defendant Is Missing or Has Left Texas
The statute of limitations clock will stop ticking while the defendant is outside of Texas or if they cannot be located.
If you become mentally incapacitated, you can “toll” the statute of limitations deadline (temporarily stop it from running) until you regain your mental competence. Nevertheless, you must still comply with the statute of repose deadlines mentioned below.
If you are a minor (under 18) when you suffer a personal injury, the statute of limitations clock doesn’t start running until you turn 18. You then have two more years to file a lawsuit. You are still subject to the statute of repose mentioned below, however.
A maritime claim may arise if you suffer a personal injury at sea. Sometimes federal law governs such claims, and sometimes state law does. In any case, the statute of limitations deadlines vary.
First-Party Insurance Claims for Car Accidents
When it comes to auto accident insurance, Texas is an “at-fault” state. This means you can sue the at-fault river or file a claim against their liability insurance policy. What do you do in case of a hit-and-run accident, however? What if the driver remains at the scene of the accident but is uninsured or underinsured?
Hopefully, you have uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance, although this is optional in Texas. If you do, you can seek compensation from your own insurance policy. You must do so under the terms of the policy, however, and the policy undoubtedly includes a deadline for filing a claim. Under such circumstances, read your policy carefully.
The Statute of Repose
Suppose your surgeon leaves a scalpel in your body, but you don’t discover it for 20 years. Once you discover it, do you still have two more years to file a medical malpractice lawsuit?
The statute of repose sets a hard deadline for all sorts of claims. Even if the statute of limitations clock starts running late, you cannot file a lawsuit once the statute of repose deadline expires. In Texas, the general statute of repose deadline is 10 years for medical malpractice claims and 15 years for product liability claims.
How To Beat the Statute of Limitations Deadline
Filing a claim with an insurance company won’t beat the statute of limitations deadline. You have to file a lawsuit. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go to trial. In fact, you probably won’t because you can continue negotiating even after you file your lawsuit. You can withdraw your lawsuit as soon as you reach a settlement, even while the jury is deliberating.
A Fort Worth Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help Confirm the Statute of Limitations for Your Case
The clock is crucial in legal claims. Think of the statute of limitations deadline like an hourglass, with sand slowly emptying the upper chamber. Trust a knowledgeable Fort Worth personal injury lawyer to guide you through crucial deadlines, including but not necessarily limited to the statute of limitations. Call (817) 294-1900 today to schedule a free initial consultation at Anderson Injury Lawyers.