Many people have heard of the term “Statute of Limitations,” but they aren’t quite sure what this is, or how it might affect them if they’ve been injured in some kind of accident in Massachusetts. This post will hopefully clear up some of these questions for you.
What is a Statute of Limitations?
First, the point of a statute-of-limitations is to set a time limit, or deadline, within which a lawsuit to recover for damages must be brought (for any type of case, negligence & personal injury or otherwise). This purpose of the statute is not to prevent a lawsuit, but place a reasonable period of time within which either a formal lawsuit or some other kind of legal claim for injuries must be brought – if a case is going to be brought forward at all. In personal injury and accident cases, the person who commences the legal claim is called the plaintiff; the person or party against whom the claim is brought is called the defendant. It is important to note that the term “defendant” in civil cases means something very different than in a criminal case – a defendant in a criminal case has been charged with a crime against the state, and if found guilty can be imprisoned. In a civil case, a defendant is usually being sued for some type of monetary (financial) damages.
When Does a Statute of Limitations Begin?
A statute-of-limitations is like ticking clock, or a timer. Normally, this timer begins when the claim first arises. That is the date on which the statute begins to run. (Courts also refer to this as the “accrual date” of the case.) A claim normally arises on the date that a plaintiff suffers the injuries that he or she is seeking damages for. However, this can sometimes vary. Courts have ruled that in some circumstances, the statute begins to run on the date that the plaintiff “knew or should have known” that he or she suffered damages. This can often be an important distinction, because sometimes a plaintiff will be in an accident, yet not fully realize that they have suffered bodily injuries until some period of time has passed. This is especially true in “soft tissue injury” cases, where it can often take some time for soft tissue injuries (i.e., to ligaments, tendons, muscles and connective tissue,) to fully symptomize.
Also, certain circumstances can extend or lengthen the time required to commence a legal action. This is referred to as “tolling” a statute.
If a plaintiff misses the cutoff date in a statute-of-limitations, the defendant can use this fact as a defense, and request the court to dismiss the action. If the plaintiff has indeed brought the action past the cutoff date in the statute, the court will normally dismiss the case.
How Long are Statutes of Limitations in Massachusetts?
The answer to this question depends upon the type of case that is involved. In Massachusetts, generally speaking the statute-of-limitations in personal injury actions is three (3) years from the date of accrual (i.e., the date of accident or injury) . These are reflected in the following statutory references:
Medical Malpractice Cases: 3 years (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 4.)
Personal Injury Cases: 3 years (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 2A; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 106, § 2-318.)
Product Liability Cases: 3 years (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 2A; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 106, § 2-318.)
Wrongful Death Cases: 3 years (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 2.)
Property Damage Claims : 3 years (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, §§ 2A, 4; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 106, § 2-310.)
Are There any Exceptions to Statutes of Limitations in Massachusetts Injury Cases?
There are some exceptions to the general rule of 3 years in personal injury cases, such as with claims and suits against the MBTA, which can run as short as two years from the accrual date of the action.
The subject of when a statute-of-limitations begins to run for any particular case can often be confusing. If you or someone you know has been injured in Massachusetts and you believe that you may have a case, it is suggested that you speak to an experienced Massachusetts personal injury law firm as soon as possible to avoid running into any problems with these statutes. We would be happy to speak with you and offer you a free initial phone consultation. Feel free to fill out our Contact Form on this page, or phone us at our office numbers below.