Is There a Deadline to File My Civil Lawsuit?

Posted by Stephanie Sherman | Nov 15, 2021 | 0 Comments

Is There a Deadline to File My Civil Lawsuit?

YES.   And you need to know the deadline ASAP.

The deadline to file your civil case is the called the "statute of limitations."  If you don't file your case by the deadline, your case is time-barred, meaning its too late, its over. 

Statutes of limitations differ based on the claims at issue, the injury or damages, and where the damages or injury occurred.  If you are in a car crash in Texas, you apply the Texas statute of limitations of two years for personal injury cases.  If you crash in New York, there is a three-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases.  If the crash is in Louisiana, the statute of limitations is one year.  

What about other cases, such as breach of contract?  That also differs state to state.  If you live in Texas and negotiated a contract with an out of state person, the other state's statute of limitations for a breach of contract action may apply depending on where the breach took place.  In Texas, the statute of limitations for breach of contract is four years, but in Delaware, its three years. 

Every state has a statute of limitations stated for the various possible claims such as personal injury, fraud, breach of contract, defamation, breach of warranty, assault, etc.  The best course is to consult a lawyer if you think you have a case so the lawyer can look at your facts, and tell you the applicable statute of limitations.  Don't wait!  Many good cases are not filed because the person waited too long to file.  

Are There Any Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations?

Yes, latent diseases, minors, cases against the government, and sex crimes against children are some exceptions.  If the defendant hid information about the danger, there may be a fraud exception.  This list is not exhaustive, but includes some of the more used exceptions:

Latent Diseases Such As Cancer

Cancer is a “latent” disease, meaning it can take years, even decades to manifest into a diagnosable cancer.  For example, if a farmer was exposed to pesticides early in his career, and developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (a cancer linked to pesticides including Monsanto's RoundUp), 10 years later when was no longer farming, the case is still live.   The statute of limitations for the farmer's case is not triggered by the exposure time period 10 years earlier, but by the diagnosis of cancer.  Even with a cancer diagnosis, the statute of limitations still may not be triggered.  If the farmer did not know, and had no reason to know, his cancer was related to a particular pesticide, the statute of limitations period still has not started.   This is known as the “discovery rule” exception.  Most states have a discovery rule, but each state has different nuances. 


A minor's statute of limitations does not begin to run until the minor reaches the age of majority.  At that point, the statute period begins and the applicable time period is applied.  For a Texas minor injured at age 16, she has until age 20 to file a civil personal injury case (age 18 plus 2 year statute of limitations).

Government Entities

Suing a governmental entity such as a town, city, county, or state can be tricky.  First, most state laws require that legal notice of intent to sue be sent by a date certain.  And, in most instances, the laws, rules, ordinances, and/or charters applicable to the governmental entity will dictate the time period by which a case must be filed.  Most of the deadlines are very short so beware. 

Child Victims Act

In recent years, many states are extending the staute of limitations for sex crimes against children under the Child Victims Act.   Those states include Alabama, Arizona, California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Montana, Vermont, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and North Carolina.  Others states will soon follow.     

Always consult a lawyer as soon as you have a claim.  You don't want to blow your case. 


About the Author

Stephanie Sherman

On June 1, 2022, I joined the nationwide award-winning law firm, Baum Hedlund.  I am grateful to join this elite group of trailblazers that is so deeply committed to taking on tough cases and fighting for the underdog. You can still reach me here, via my bio page or at 800-827-0087. Stephani...


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