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Statute Of Limitations: When The Clock Is Running

September 24, 2018

 

Fans all over America cheered as football season started in earnest last month. One of my favorite aspects of the game is admiring quarterbacks evading sacks. As the quarterback snaps the ball, the clock starts ticking in his head. He has a time limit to get rid of the ball or risk taking a loss on the play. A similar scenario applies to personal injury law. Depending on the category and status of your personal injury case, you may feel the same sense of urgency before you lose your opportunity for financial compensation if the statute of limitation expires. The statute of limitations is the time period that you have to file a law suit in court before the proverbial clock runs out. So what is the deadline? It depends on your legal claim, for instance, an auto accident victim has a three-year limit to file while defamation victims only have 1 year and that year can go by pretty quickly if you are not paying attention. The average person does not wake up in the morning with the knowledge that they could face a personal injury decision on a given day but due to the imperfection of human nature, stuff happens. Worse yet, in some cases, the victim may be inclined to let it go initially or aren't aware of the full extent of their damages until some time has passed after the event especially if they initially thought that their injury wasn't serious but later developed pain for months or even years later. So, how will the victim know how much to claim for if they do not know the severity of their injuries or do they wait and risk the statute of limitations deadline? Unfortunately, the answer is not so straight forward.

 

When Is the Best Time to File the Injury Claim?

Depending on the severity of your injuries, it is generally advisable talk to an attorney immediately after being injured. For instance, if you had a small knock and very little damage to your car and very little to no medical bills,  most likely, you can settle that claim with the insurance adjuster with little at stake. On the other hand, if you required hospitalization with extensive property damage and the possibility of physical therapy sessions, you will need an attorney.  In any event, you shouldn't wait for the completion of your treatment before filing a claim. You should contact the insurance adjuster as early as possible in order to provide your attorney sufficient time to gather information with the goal of obtaining the most favorable settlement award for you before the expiration of the statute of limitations. What is the statute of limitations for some of the common types of personal injury cases?

 

Auto Accidents

Car accidents are generally the most recognizable personal injury cases. When a person drives carelessly and causes an accident, that driver could be held financially responsible for injuries stemming from the accident subject to the existence of contributory negligence if any exists on the part of the victim (meaning that the victim/ injured driver will NOT recover anything in Maryland if even 1% fault can be attributed to said victim). In Maryland, the victim has a three-year deadline after the occurrence of an injury or the date of the car accident to file a complaint and summons in civil court.

Slip and Fall

 

Maryland slip and fall law: This is a fault based system which holds businesses and property owners liable only for dangerous conditions that they are aware of, or should have known but failed to warn guests about. Generally, for a property owner to be liable for a slip and fall injury, there usually must be some evidence of a defect or a dangerous condition on the property that caused the fall. This can be any kind of condition that is unsafe or poses an unacceptable risk of harm to a person who is lawfully on the property. As in the case of auto accidents, you have a three-year statute of limitation to file your slip and fall case in Maryland.

 

Defamation

Generally, defamation means inaccurate written (libel) and spoken (slander) statements that cause financial harm to a person's reputation. To win a slander or libel, public figures must prove malice whereas private persons only have to show that the defendant was negligent. In Maryland, you must show that the defendant made a defamatory statement to a third person (publication of a defamatory statement); that the statement was false; that the defendant was legally at fault in making the statement; and that the plaintiff thereby suffered harm. A defamatory statement typically exposes the victim to public scorn, hatred, contempt or ridicule, thereby discouraging others in the community from having a good opinion of, or associating with the victim. Unfortunately, defamation claims have a fairly short statute of limitations that expires within 1 year after the publication date of the false statements.

 

Dog Bites

Maryland is a statutory strict liability state where the attacking dog wasn't on a leash and where the dog owner could not show that he neither knew nor should have known that his dog was vicious or dangerous. Maryland also allows victims to base their claims on other legal principles such as negligence but if the victim was also negligent in any manner (contributory negligence) – for instance, if the victim trespassed on the dog owner's property – the victim will not recover any financial award in Maryland. A dog bite is treated as a classic personal injury claim and has a three-year statute of limitation in Maryland.

 

Assault (& Battery) 

If you are physically attacked by someone and get harmed, you are entitled to compensation for the injuries resulting from the defendant's negligence in a civil case. In addition, assuming you press charges (advisable in this situation), a criminal case will be prosecuted against the defendant prior to settling the civil end of the matter. Assaults only have a one-year statute of limitation which could be complicated by having to wait for a decision to be reached for the criminal proceeding aspect of the matter before moving forward with the civil case. Hence, relatively speaking, time is generally of the essence with respect to this type of personal injury case.

 

Product Liability

Sometimes, a manufacturer's products may cause you physical injury. In this situation, the products liability law presents an opportunity to make you financially whole if you can show that the product was dangerous or defective and the defect caused your injuries. A dangerous or defective product is one that causes a personal injury or illness as a result of an inherent defect or danger. All sorts of products, if dangerous or defective are covered under the umbrella of product liability law including but not limited to lawn mowers, chainsaws, guns, cars, drugs, and toys to mention a few. At times, it takes years to find out that a product could be dangerous or defective. When people are injured or sickened by a defective product, the designer, manufacturer or seller can be held liable for the injuries and damages caused. Victims in such cases would file what is known as product liability claims. Product liability is a legal matter that is too complex for a lay person to handle and requires the aid of an experienced attorney. The statute of limitation runs three years from the injury date. This list of personal injury categories is hardly exhaustive as there are much more that were beyond the scope of this article, however, listed below is a summary table for the statute of limitation discussed in this article:

 

Auto Accident - 3 years from the accident date

Slip And Fall - 3 years from the date of the injury

Defamation - 1 Year from the publication date

Dog Bites - 3 years from the date of the injury

Assault - 1 year from the date of the assault

Products Liability - 3 years from the date of the injury

 

Bottom Line

As you dream about your potential financial award, you should keep an eye on that ticking clock. From the moment you suffered your injury, the clock begins winding down toward the day the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit runs out. Notwithstanding, in some cases, the limitation period may be ‘tolled' or suspended in the interest of fairness for the victim's benefit example where the victim can show that they were not able to discover the injury timely or was incapacitated/ disabled by age (minor) or mental incompetence. Therefore, the more serious your injuries, the sooner you should hire an attorney to help you negotiate with the insurance company. Attorneys in Maryland are trained to know the statute of limitations and to keep an eye on that ticking clock so that, if necessary, you can file your defamation or assault lawsuit before your 12-month limit runs out.

Call (301) 453-7177 for a free consultation.

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