If you’ve been involved in a car accident, you should be aware that the statute of limitations sets the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit or lose your legal rights forever. If you are only claiming property damage, you have as much as six years from the date of the accident to file a claim for your car or any other personal property you might have lost in the crash. However, if you are claiming losses due to a personal injury, you must file within two years in most cases.
The statute of limitations exists to protect defendants who otherwise could live under the threat of a lawsuit for the rest of their lives. It also promotes justice by forcing a plaintiff to bring an action within a reasonable amount of time, before evidence degrades or disappears. Imagine the injustice that might occur if a plaintiff could wait until key witnesses for the defense forgot their testimony, moved out of the jurisdiction or passed away.
On the other hand, the law takes into account circumstances that might reasonably prevent a plaintiff from filing a lawsuit within the statutory period and provides extensions for certain exceptions:
- Latent injury — Under the discovery rule, a plaintiff who was unaware that a hidden injury occurred on a certain date does not have to count all the way back to the date of the accident. Instead, the statutory period of two years only begins when the plaintiff discovers the injury, or when the plaintiff should reasonably have known an injury occurred.
- Injury to a child — In New Jersey, the statute of limitations for an injured child does not start to run until the child’s 18th birthday.
- Plaintiff’s incapacity — The statute of limitations tolls (stops running) if a plaintiff is not legally sane and only begins again when the plaintiff regains sanity.
- Defendant’s bankruptcy — When a defendant declares bankruptcy, the statute tolls until the bankruptcy process has run its course.
- Defendant leaves the state — The statute of limitations may toll when a defendant leaves the state and the court cannot exercise jurisdiction.
If an injured party treats a claim conscientiously, the statute of limitations should not be an issue. A plaintiff should retain an attorney immediately so that that physical evidence can be preserved and witness statements can be taken under oath. In many cases, the attorney will file a lawsuit early to use discovery powers to obtain necessary evidence.
The deadline that presents a greater threat to a plaintiff’s rights involves claims against a government entity. If you are involved in an accident with a New Jersey state vehicle, the law says you must submit a Notice of Claim to the appropriate public entity within 90 days, or you lose your right to compensation.
For experienced representation after your vehicle accident, call Seigel Law at 201.444.4000 or contact us online. We offer free consultations for injured clients in Bergen County and throughout New Jersey.