The Lawsuit Process
This chapter explores the initial stages of the lawsuit process. It examines statute of limitations
deadlines, choice of trials, choice of venue, and the initial legal filings you can expect from your op-
Statutes of Limitations
One of the most difficult calls a personal injury attorney can receive is when a potential client
says he was badly injured and the statute of limitations is about to expire. Busy attorneys will often
decline taking such a case because they do not want to take the risk that the suit cannot be filed on
time. It takes time to know whether a case has the merit and value to justify litigation.
Statute of limitations deadlines are legal time limits that control when lawsuits must be filed.
If the lawsuit is not filed before the deadline, it is subject to dismissal by the court. It is extremely
important that you find out the deadline for the case and keep it in mind during the litigation.
Statutes of limitations vary from state to state and are occasionally changed by legislatures.
The following pages provide deadlines for negligence cases, along with the statute citations. To be
sure of your deadline, you should research the law for your state.
This list applies only to negligence cases. If you represent someone who has been injured in
a motor vehicle or slip-and-fall accident involving negligence, you can use this list for the statute
of limitations deadline. If the injury involves medical malpractice, a defective product, assault and
battery, slander or libel, or any other kind of injury, a different statute of limitations deadline may
apply. A trip to your local library or online research will clarify this important issue.
Even with a negligence lawsuit, this list may not be sufficient. For example, in Kentucky, where
a one-year statute of limitations applies to negligence cases, an exception exists that may extend
the deadline significantly. In California, in certain cases the limitations period is one year and in
others it is two years. In Colorado, it is two years for slip-and-fall cases but three for motor vehicle
NOTE: This list is only a starting point in your research. If you are concerned about a stat-
ute of limitation, you should either contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in your
state or research the statutory section cited below.
138 Winning Personal Injury Cases
Alabama Code of Alabama §6-2-38 2 years
Alaska Alaska Statutes §09.10.070 2 years
Arizona Arizona Revised Statutes §12-542 2 years
Arkansas Arkansas Stat. Annotated §16-56-115 5 years
California Civil Civ. Procedure Code §§340, 335.1 l or 2 years
Colorado Colorado Revised Statutes §13-80-102 2 years
Connecticut Connecticut General Statutes §52-584 2 years
Delaware Delaware Code Annotated §§8107, 8119 2 years
District of Columbia District of Columbia Code §12-301 3 years
Florida Florida Statutes §95.11 4 years
Georgia Georgia Code Ann. §3-1004 2 years
Hawaii Hawaii Revised Statutes §657-7 2 years
Idaho Idaho Code §5-219 2 years
Illinois Illinois Statutes Ann. §13-202 2 years
Indiana Indiana Code Ann. §34-11-2-4 2 years
Iowa Iowa Code Annotated §614.1 2 years
Kansas Kansas Statutes Annotated §60.513 2 years
Kentucky Kentucky Revised Statutes Ann. §413.140 1 year
Louisiana Louisiana Civil Code Ann. Art. 3492 1 year
Maine Maine Revised Statutes Ann. §752 6 years
Maryland Maryland Ann. Code §5-101 3 years
Massachusetts Mass. General Laws Ann. Ch. 260, §2A4 3 years
Michigan Michigan Compiled Laws §600.5805S 3 years
Minnesota Minnesota Statutes Annotated §541.07 2 years
Mississippi Mississippi Code Annotated §15-1-49 3 years
Missouri Missouri Statutes Annotated §516.120 5 years
Montana Mont. Code Ann. §§27-2-204, 27-2-207 2 or 3 years
Nebraska Revised Statutes of Nebraska §25-20S 4 years
Nevada Nevada Revised Statutes Ann. §11.190 2 years
New Hampshire New Hampshire Statutes Ann. §50S:4 3 years
New Jersey New Jersey Statutes Annotated §2A:14-2 2 years
New Mexico New Mexico Statutes Ann. §37-1-S 3 years
New York .
N.Y. CIV PRAC. R. §214 3 years
North Carolina General Statutes of North Carolina §1-52 3 years
North Dakota North Dakota Century Code §2S-0l-16 6 years
Ohio Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §2305.10 2 years
Oklahoma Oklahoma Statutes Annotated Title 12 §95 2 years
Oregon Oregon Revised Statutes §12.110 2 years
The Lawsuit Process 139
Pennsylvania 42 PA Con. Stat. Annotated §5524 2 years
Rhode Island General Laws of Rhode Island §9-1-14 3 years
South Carolina South Carolina Code Ann. §15-3-530 3 years
South Dakota South Dakota Compo Laws Ann. §15-2-14 3 years
Tennessee Tennessee Code Annotated §2S-3-104 1 years
Texas Texas Civ. Code Ann. 2 §16.003 2 year
Utah Utah Code Annotated §7S-12-25 4 years
Vermont Vermont Statutes Ann. Title 12 §512 3 years
Virginia Virginia Code §S.Ol-243 2 years
Washington Revised Code of Wash. Ann. §4.16.020 3 years
West Virginia West Virginia Code §55-2-12 2 years
Wisconsin Wisconsin Statutes Annotated §S93.54 3 years
Wyoming Wyoming Statutes Annotated §1-3-105 4 years
For most injuries, such as from car accidents, the time period begins when the injury occurs.
There are some exceptions. In medical malpractice cases, most states start the clock when the cli-
ent first discovered or should have discovered the malpractice. It is a good idea to start the suit within
two years (if that is the deadline in your state) from the alleged malpractice since this may be the
date on which the client should have discovered it. The discovery rule is a fall back position only,
to be used if the limitations period has passed.
Another exception involves minors. Minors generally have two years from their 18th birthday
to file, although, again, this varies from state to state. In cases involving repressed memory, the court
may suspend the statute of limitations during the time the memory was repressed. Similarly, many
states suspend the statute of limitations during periods the plaintiff suffered from insanity or mental
incapacity. Thus, this period of time would not count toward the deadline.
Even if memory was not repressed, in cases involving victims of childhood sexual abuse, a civil
lawsuit for damages might have a very long statute of limitations deadline. In Pennsylvania, the
legislature passed a law in June 2002 changing the statute of limitations in these types of cases to 12
years after the plaintiff reaches age 18, the age of majority.
This forward-thinking legislation recognizes that even if a childhood sexual abuse victim had
not repressed any memories, they may not have the ability to act to protect their legal rights for a
very long time. It may take many years before this person has worked through the trauma enough to
move forward with legal action. See www.smith-lawfirm.com/ for an extended discussion of these
If you are relying on a recent legislative change in the limitations period, find out whether the
change applies only to cases that occur after the effective date of the new law or whether it applies
retroactively. If the change does not apply retroactively, you may be unable to revive a case that was
time barred by the previously existing deadline.
Learn your deadline as soon as you can and mark it on your calendar. Don’t wait until just
before the deadline to file suit. It may take several months of litigation before you can be sure that
you have sued all the necessary parties. If you find this out after the statute of deadlines has passed,
you may have committed malpractice.