The Statute of Limitations: Not Always Set in Stone
A statute of limitations is a law that places a time limit on the ability to bring a lawsuit related to wrongful conduct. After the expiration of the period designated by state law, unless some sort of legal exception applies, it’s too late for the injured person to file a lawsuit seeking money damages or other types of relief.
Every state establishes its own statute of limitations for various legal actions, including personal injury cases. The specific time limits vary by state, from one year in Kentucky and Tennessee to six years in Maine and North Dakota.
Colorado Statute of Limitations
The time limit for filing a personal injury lawsuit in Colorado is typically two years, although the state provides an extra year (three total) for personal injury claims, and injury to property claims if a motor vehicle is involved.
Some of the filing limits in Colorado, based on the type of claim, include:
- Negligence: two years
- Negligence or injuries involving a car accident: three years
- Wrongful death: two years
- Medical malpractice: two years with discovery rule
- Civil fraud: three years from the act or date when it should have been discovered
- Contracts: three years, whether written or oral
What Is the Discovery Rule?
But there are specific limited exceptions to a statute of limitations. Although a statute of limitations specifies that a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within a certain amount of time after an accident or injury, the time period usually does not begin to run, or toll, until the moment the victim knows (or reasonably should know) that they suffered an injury. This is known as the discovery rule.
The discovery rule does not usually apply in most car accidents and slip-and-fall incidents since the nature of these accidents is readily apparent and nothing is left to discover regarding the source and extent of any injury suffered. It is perhaps more common in medical malpractice cases, where harm caused may not be apparent until well after the treatment was received or a surgical procedure was performed.
Wrongful Death and the Discovery Rule
In Redwine v. Baptist Medical Center of Oklahoma Inc., the surviving spouse brought an action for wrongful death against surgeons and an Oklahoma hospital after being told that the death of her husband during open-heart surgery in March 1976 was simply “one of those things.” After making an inquiry with the Chief Medical Examiner of the State of Oklahoma, the woman received a letter nearly two years after the actual death explaining the true circumstances surrounding her husband’s death: defective equipment sold and used by the defendants that allowed air to appear in the aortic line and enter the aorta, which killed him.
Because the letter of February 1978 was the woman’s first knowledge of the circumstances of her husband’s death, the statute of limitations began to run from the date when she knew, or should have known, of the wrongful death.
One of the most important considerations an injured person must make is how long he or she has to file a personal injury lawsuit. If you are unsure about how the statute of limitations might affect your Colorado personal injury case, talk to an experienced Colorado accident attorney, who will be able to advise you as to whether your case is within the statute of limitations, and if not, if the statute can be tolled or what other options are available.
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