Asker: How long do I have to file a claim for injuries from a car accident or medical malpractice?
Attorney: I always say that after an accident, time isn’t on your side. There are time limits that restrict your legal rights to seek compensation for your injuries. These deadlines are called statutes of limitations, and they vary not only from state to state, but also depending on the type of claim, who the defendant is, and who the victim is.
As a General Rule…
In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the general statute of limitations for filing a claim is two years from the date of the accident or incident. That goes for a wide variety of cases, from car accidents to dog bites and slip-and-falls to medical malpractice. Usually, you have two years to file a lawsuit – but there’s a very important “but” that you need to be aware of early on in your claim. Though two years is the typical deadline, there are exceptions that could sharply reduce the amount of time you have to pursue the complication you deserve. These exceptions can get very technical, which means that if you wait too long to consult an attorney, you may never find out that you don’t have the full two years until it’s too late.
Some exceptions actually work in the favor of you, the victim. For example, if the victim was a minor, the two year deadline is extended. Instead of two years from the date of the accident, it becomes two years from the date the victim turned 18-years-old. Of course, if a victim is seriously hurt, parents can and should still seek an attorney’s help promptly. There’s no benefit to waiting until the last minute (or in this case, the minor’s 18th birthday) to act, especially when the victim needs further medical care.
In some medical malpractice cases, too, the exception helps patients. Suppose you didn’t know right away that the medical error had occurred. Many instances of medical malpractice are far more subtle than a surgeon operating on the wrong limb, but that doesn’t mean these mistakes are less harmful in the long run. Among patients whose malpractice claims stemmed from failures to diagnose cancer, for example, the error doesn’t become clear until after the cancer has finally been diagnosed – which could be years later. Fortunately, medical malpractice claims in New Jersey and Pennsylvania include the “discovery rule.” The two year time period is still in effect, but instead of the deadline for filing a claim expiring two years from the date the doctor made an error, the clock doesn’t start ticking until the date you knew (or should’ve known) that a doctor committed malpractice.
Some exceptions decrease the length of time you have to act. Who exactly is the defendant in your claim? Without having legal expertise yourself, the truth is that you may not be sure. Another driver could be at fault, but so could a municipality or county that neglected to maintain safe road conditions. Your slip-and-fall might have occurred on property owned and maintained by a government agency. If you have to pursue compensation from a government entity, rather than an individual or business, exceptions to the statute of limitations can drastically reduce the time you have to file a lawsuit. You may have to provide written notice of the claim or your intent to file a claim within six months in Pennsylvania, or just 90 days in New Jersey.
After an accident, it’s essential that you protect all of your legal rights, and that means making sure that you never miss a deadline that could cost you big-time. That’s why I always tell accident victims to at least take the time to call a lawyer for a consultation, even if they don’t think they can afford an attorney. You need more than general answers from Internet forums or websites – you need to know exactly which laws apply to your unique claim, as soon as possible.