The statute of limitations is a state law that sets a deadline by which you must either file a formal lawsuit or forever hold your peace. The length of time you have to file a lawsuit is typically measured in years, and it depends on what type of claim you intend to press.
In Texas, the typical statute of limitations deadline for a personal injury claim is two years after the date of the injury. This deadline applies unless there is an exception. We’ll cover what you need to know in the remainder of this article.
What It Takes to Beat the Statute of Limitations
To beat the statute of limitations deadline, you must take the following steps in a timely manner:
- File a copy of your complaint initiating the lawsuit with the clerk of the appropriate Texas court, along with the appropriate filing fees.
- Arrange for a neutral third party to deliver the summons to court and a copy of the complaint to the defendant (this step is known as “service of process”).
You must complete service of process in a reasonably diligent and timely fashion to beat the statute of limitations deadline. If you file your lawsuit and serve process on time, you have beaten the statute of limitations deadline, no matter how long it takes to resolve your lawsuit.
Why Do Statutes of Limitations Exist?
There are three main reasons why every US jurisdiction applies a statute of limitations:
- To hear cases while the evidence is still fresh. Witness memories fade, and physical evidence deteriorates over time.
- To prevent a vengeful claimant from holding the threat of a lawsuit over a potential defendant’s head for an indefinite period of time. The threat of a lawsuit can be a potent legal weapon against even a faultless defendant.
- To prevent court dockets from overflowing with cases. The statute of limitations limits the total number of cases that can be taken to court.
There are many more reasons why states enforce statutes of limitations.
What Happens if You Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline?
If you miss the deadline and no exception applies, a judge will dismiss your claim whenever you try to bring it to court. Without the ability to bring your claim to court, you cannot force the defendant to pay your claim. After all, what incentive do they have to negotiate with you if you cannot force them to pay?
Exceptions to the General Statute of Limitations
Following are descriptions of the major exceptions to the Teas statute of limitations.
Wrongful Death Claims
If the victim of a personal injury dies of the injury, certain close relatives of the deceased victim can file a wrongful death lawsuit. In this case, the two-year statute of limitations time clock begins ticking on the day the victim dies, not the date that the accident occurred.
The Discovery Rule
In certain cases, you might not expect to be able to identify an injury quickly. In a car accident, of course, you can very quickly identify a broken thumb. But what if a surgeon accidentally leaves a scalpel inside your body after an appendectomy?
If you cannot be expected to know of an injury immediately, the statute of limitations clock stops ticking until you learn of the injury or until you should have learned of it through the exercise of reasonable diligence.
Suing the Government
You cannot sue the government for monetary damages without its permission. The reason behind this rule is that any money you receive comes out of the pockets of the taxpayers who fund the government. The Texas Tort Claims Act sets forth certain exceptions, however, that do allow you to file personal injury claims against Texas or a local government if certain conditions are met.
Suing the Texas State Government
One of the conditions you must meet to file a personal injury lawsuit against Texas is to file a written notice of claim with the appropriate authority within 180 days after the claim arises.
Complying with this deadline doesn’t mean you aren’t also subject to the general statute of limitations deadline. You still are.
Suing a Local Government
The deadline for filing a notice of claim with a city or county government depends on local law. In Laredo, for example, you only have only 60 days after your accident to file a notice of claim. Just as with claims against the Texas state government, beating this deadline doesn’t mean you have beaten the general statute of limitations deadline. You still have to comply with it.
The Statute of Repose
The statute of repose sets a hard deadline for certain types of claims. If you miss the statute of repose deadline, your claim is dead, and there is no reviving it. The statute of repose overcomes all exceptions.
Texas imposes a statute of repose deadlines on medical malpractice claims and product liability claims.
Medical Malpractice Claims
The Texas statute of repose deadline for a medical malpractice claim is 10 years after the malpractice occurs.
The Texas statute of repose for a product liability claim (an injury caused by a defective product) is 15 years after the date of retail purchase. It doesn’t matter whether the injury victim purchased the product or if someone else did.
You can “toll” the statute of limitations deadline (stop the clock from ticking) while you are mentally incapacitated. Even then, you are still subject to the statute of repose in medical malpractice and product liability claims.
If you are under 18 when your claim arises (when your injury occurs), the statute of limitations clock will not start ticking until you turn 18. This usually gives you until your 20th birthday to file a lawsuit. Nevertheless, the statute of repose still limits your options in medical malpractice and product liability lawsuits.
Statutes of limitations deadlines vary in maritime claims. Some claims are governed by federal law, and some are governed by state law.
First-Party Insurance Claims for Car Accidents
When it comes to auto insurance claims for car accidents, Texas is an “at-fault” state. That means you should file a third-party claim against the at-fault driver’s liability insurance company to recover compensation for bodily injury and property damage arising from a car accident.
In some cases, however, this isn’t possible. The at-fault driver might have (illegally) failed to carry liability insurance. Alternatively, you might have been victimized by a hit-and-run driver who got away before you could identify them.
In such cases, you must look to your own uninsured/underinsured (UIM) motorist coverage to compensate you if you have any. UIM insurance is optional in Texas. Your deadline for filing a UIM claim depends on your contract with your insurance company. Typically, it is three years after the accident.
If your insurer unjustly refuses to pay you, you can file a claim under your insurance policy. This is an ordinary contract claim, and the statute of limitations deadline is four years after your breach of contract.
The statute of limitations clock will stop ticking while the defendant is out of state or cannot be located
Do You Need a Laredo Personal Injury Attorney?
If you suspect you might have a statute of limitations deadline problem, contact an experienced Laredo personal injury lawyer such as Roderick C. Lopez Personal Injury Lawyers at (956) 529-7336 to schedule a free initial consultation. The attorney can explain your options to you and, perhaps, help you win your claim. In any case, most personal injury lawyers will not charge you any legal fees unless they win your claim.