How long can I wait before I file a lawsuit?

Get Legal Help Today

 Secured with SHA-256 Encryption

Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Full Bio →

Written by

UPDATED: Feb 20, 2013

Advertiser Disclosure

It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.

We strive to help you make confident insurance and legal decisions. Finding trusted and reliable insurance quotes and legal advice should be easy. This doesn’t influence our content. Our opinions are our own.

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.

That depends. Some actions require prompt initiation of a lawsuit, while other matters can be given more time. Statutes of limitation exist in both the federal and state law system. If you file a lawsuit beyond the applicable statute of limitation, the defendant can demur (that is, file a pleading that basically says, “So what? The plaintiff waited too long and now recovery is barred by law”). In addition to the defense of the applicable statute of limitation, a defendant may raise the “equitable argument of laches” (the plaintiff has been “sleeping” on his/her rights for so long that recovery should be barred).

There is generally a longer period of time for controversies relating to real property than there is for personal injury. Complaints regarding a written contract usually can be filed later than a complaint based upon an oral contract. Determining when the statute of limitation begins can be complex. Some limitations are based upon when a plaintiff should have known there was a problem. There are also rules regarding the tolling (suspension) of the statute of limitation (for example, the statute does not run while the defendant is out of state, is a minor, or is insane).

Just because there is a long period of time before a lawsuit must be filed does not mean that the period must be almost expired before filing. While other methods of dispute resolution can be used before filing, it is important not to allow a statute of limitation to expire, and thereby defeat any potential change for recovery. Remember the adage, “If you snooze, you lose.” Determine the date of the applicable statute of limitation well in advance, and then don’t get caught short.

Get Legal Help Today

Find the right lawyer for your legal issue.

 Secured with SHA-256 Encryption