The end of the year is a time to take stock, wrap up unfinished business and enjoy the holidays. December 31 serves as a kind of universal deadline, whether you promised yourself you would do something by year end, or outside forces, i.e. the IRS, company fiscal year, etc., dictate your time is up. Our civil law also imposes a significant deadline and if you miss it, it could mean you are forever barred from obtaining redress you are entitled to under the law.
This deadline is called a statute of limitations. Most people have heard this term but are not clear on its meaning. Some even think it’s a “statue” like Lady Liberty; no, a statute is a law and a statute of limitations is a law that limits the time within which you may file a lawsuit.
The general statute of limitations applicable to personal injury cases is two years from the date the claim or cause of action accrued.
“Accrual” is usually defined as the date of injury or the date on which you first became aware you were injured due to the actions of another. For instance, if your doctor failed to diagnose a health condition such as cancer, generally your cause of action for medical malpractice would accrue on the date you discovered you had cancer and your prior doctor did not diagnose it—not necessarily the last date you visited that physician.
The law is complicated though. There are some specific statutes of limitations for certain personal injury actions, some longer and some shorter. Cases involving governmental entities usually are specifically governed by the Illinois Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. Accordingly, you should always consult a personal injury attorney at the earliest possible moment after you believe you were wronged to understand and exercise your rights.
The reasoning behind a statute of limitations is that wrongdoers and their insurers should have a fair opportunity to gather evidence while it is fresh. Also, to have some peace of mind provided by the passage of time rather than worry forever that a lawsuit is looming. The statute also encourages early reporting of incidents that may lead to liability so the matter may be properly investigated and justice served.
If you think you may have been harmed at the hands of another person or entity, please do yourself a favor and put “Consult personal injury attorney” on your year-end “to do” list. Then make your holiday a memorable one.