WHAT IS A STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS?
A statute of limitations is a timeframe or deadline within which one has to file a certain type of case. New Jersey (and every other state) has various statutes of limitations depending upon the type and nature of the case. For instance, the statute of limitations for a personal injury claim in the State of New Jersey is two years. On the other hand, the statute of limitations for a breach of contract claim is six years. Thus, in the event a lawsuit is not filed within the respective time frames for each of these types of claims, the ability to file such a lawsuit may be lost forever. Importantly, however, there are many other factors and issues concerning statutes of limitations other than merely the time frame set forth in the various statutes.
One of the first issues that must be determined when dealing with a statute of limitations is the date upon which the potential cause of action “accrued.” Basically, the accrual date is the date that the statute of limitations time begins to run. Although the statute of limitations for a personal injury claim is two years, the accrual date for such a claim may not necessarily be the date that the injury was actually sustained. In certain cases, the accrual date will be the date that the person knew or reasonably should have known that their injury was caused by the wrongdoing of another. Similarly, in breach of contract cases, although the six year time frame begins to run upon the breach of the contract, there are many intricacies in our law as to when a contract is actually breached.
Another issue that arises when determining a statute of limitations time frame is whether or not a particular statute of limitations may be “tolled.” This means that the statute of limitations “timeclock” stops for one reason or another thus extending the statute of limitations deadline. Typically, the time will “stop running” for the period of time that a person is not competent to file a lawsuit. The main example of this is for a person who is under the age of 18 years old. Because a “minor” is not “competent” to file a lawsuit under the eyes of the law, the time under the statute of limitations will toll until that individual attains the age of 18. For example, in a personal injury case, the statute of limitations for an injured individual under the age of 18 will not be until that individual’s 20th birthday which is two years after they attain the age of majority.
Importantly, in addition to statutes of limitation, there are other timeframe provisions both in New Jersey law and other states’ laws which require some type of written notification to a legal entity within a certain period of time. These timeframes are routinely significantly shorter than a statute of limitation. For instance, in New Jersey, if an injury is sustained as a result of the negligence of a public entity (Township, Borough, City, County, State of New Jersey, etc.), written notification must be provided to that entity within 90 days of the accrual of the cause of action otherwise the ability to sue the public entity may be lost forever. Another such written notification provision in the State of New Jersey is where an injury is sustained in an amusement park.
As you can see, there are many legal pitfalls with respect to statutes of limitation and time frames within which action must be taken by a potential litigant. Of course, this article only scratches the surface with regard to these issues and, regardless of what type of claim that you have, it is important that you immediately seek legal advice from an attorney as soon as you believe that you have a claim against someone else. Your failure to do so may jeopardize your ability to obtain compensation for your damages.
Of course, should you wish to discuss any of the issues set forth in this article, please feel free to contact my office for a free telephone consultation.