statutes of limitationsIt is said that “justice delayed is justice denied”. One tool employed to reduce lengthy delays is a statute of limitations. These statutes sets a time limit on a plaintiff’s right to file a civil case in court.

Generally speaking, the “clock” will start ticking on the date of the injury, defect, or loss or discovery of the harm. Under special circumstances. a statute of limitations can be paused (“tolled”).

If a defendant establishes that the statute of limitations has expired, the court will normally dismiss the case. In most jurisdictions and in federal court, the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that is waived if not asserted in the answer.


Reasons for Statutes of Limitations

Statutes of limitations serve several purposes, including:


Preservation of Evidence

As time passes, evidence may be lost or deteriorate. Statutes of limitations encourages prompt action, ensuring that evidence is still fresh and reliable when a case proceeds.


Protecting Defendants and Plaintiffs

Statutes of limitations protect potential defendants from being exposed to lawsuits indefinitely. A statute of limitations can prevent putting either the defendant or the plaintiff at a disadvantage with a “stale” case.


Encouraging Resolution

Rather than allowing disputes to drag on indefinitely, statutes of limitations encourages injured persons to proceed with their case in timely manner.


Judicial Efficiency

By setting time limits, statutes of limitations help to prevent courts from becoming overburdened with old cases. Given the complications stemming from the passage of time, these cases would likely prove difficult to adjudicate.


Discovery rule

In some cases, a statute of limitations can start on the day that a party should have reasonably discovered the injury, rather than the date of the incident itself.

The discovery rule often comes into play in medical malpractice cases. A person may not immediately know they sustained an injury because of medical negligence. For example, if a surgeon leaves a sponge inside the patient’s body, it could take more than two years for the harm to manifest itself.


Statute of Limitations Exceptions

In Pennsylvania, there are some exceptions to statutes of limitations. One such exception involves lawsuits against the government. Claims against a governmental agency must be filed within six months from the date the injury was sustained. After that time frame, Pennsylvania law will dismiss the action.

Some exceptions extend the time limit. Minors, for example, can sue up to two years after their 18th birthdays. (A medical malpractice case involving birth injury, then, can have a statute of limitations for up to 20 years.) Wrongful death cases are yet another example of exceptions. Plaintiffs have two years after the date of death to file a claim— not two years from the date of injury.

Attorney Jonathan Comitz and his team have the knowledge and experience to navigate the complexities of statutes of limitations.


Pennsylvania Civil Statutes of Limitations

Pennsylvania’s civil statutes of limitations impose the following time limits:

  • Libel/Slander – One year
  • Injury to Person – Two years
  • Fraud – Two years
  • Injury to Personal Property – Two years
  • Trespass – Two years
  • Wrongful death – Two years
  • Medical malpractice – Two years
  • Product liability – Two years
  • Judgments – Four years
  • Collection of Debt on Account – Four years
  • Judgments – Four years
  • Contracts (written) – Twenty years under seal; four years other
  • Contracts (oral) – Four years
  • Collection of Rents – Twenty-one years


Statutes of Repose

Related to statutes of limitations, statutes of repose have the power to extinguish legal claims. With the former, the clock typically starts ticking when the plaintiff suffers harm or loss. With the latter, the time starts running when a specified event occurs (e.g, purchase of a product).


Example of statute of repose

Although John already had a lawn mower, he saw a deal that was too good to pass up. John put the new lawn mower in his garage. When the  old lawn mower finally stopped working, John decided to switch to an electric model. One day the electric mower wouldn’t work, so he pressed his never before used lawn mower into service. Shortly after starting to mow his lawn, the lawn mower caught fire, seriously injuring John.

 John filed a product liability lawsuit four months after his injury, which was well within the two-year statute of limitations. However, his claim was barred because it was filed after the twelve-year statute of repose, which had begun when he bought the lawn mower.


If you have a legal issue involving any one of Comitz Law Firm’s areas of practice, call 570-829-1111 or email Don’t delay.