When a party is injured, they have a period of time to file a law suit. This is called the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for personal injury allows victims involved in an accident a certain period of time to file a lawsuit. Failing to understand and comply with the statute of limitations may hurt your chances of being protected by the law.
Most states’ personal injury statutes of limitations is 2 years.
This means the time limit for personal injury claims starts on the date your were injured. The statute of limitations can be viewed as the ticking clock meaning once you suffer injury or harm, the clock begins to count down.
Sometimes the statute of limitations is suspended or “tolled” for a period of time, and then begins to run again. For example, tolling may happen when the defendant is a minor, is out of the state or in prison, or is insane. When the reason for the tolling ends (like if the minor turns 18, or the defendant returns to California or gets out of prison, or the defendant is no longer insane), the statute of limitations begins to run again.
However, this analysis assumes that the injured party is aware of the actual injury. There are some situations where the victim isn’t aware of the actual injury for a period of time. In that instance, it would be unfair to them to start the ticking clock when they are not even aware that they have a claim in the first place. Remember, an essential component to whether one has a claim is damages, i.e. injury. Therefore, the time period within which a party actually discovers the damages plays an important role and may extend the statute of limitations significantly. Learn more about your situation to to find out if you have a personal injury claim.
What is the Discovery of Harm Rule?
The concept of discovery of harm rule is fairly straight forward. This doesn’t change the statute of limitations in that you can always file your lawsuit within the time allowed, but that statute of limitations only applies after you learn that you have been injured or hurt in some way. The following types of cases below express how the rule is applied to some hypothetical personal injuries.
Medical Negligence Case
Hypothetically, say a plaintiff (potential party to a lawsuit) had surgery and while in the operating room, the surgeon mistakenly left a bandage or utensil inside the abdomen of the patient. This negligence wouldn’t be discovered until residual issues (hence damages) start to arise for the patient which may be immediate but could also be years later, past the statute of limitations.
Injuries induced from medical negligence may not even be discovered until the patient undergoes another surgical procedure. In that case, the patient might have no way of knowing about the injury and this lack of knowledge would certainly be reasonable under the circumstances. In this case, the statute of limitations of medical negligence would begin to run once the patient discovers the injury rather than from the date the surgeon actually negligently left the item in the patient.
Medical Malpractice and Products Liability Case
Another example is a situation where a plaintiff is taking medication for a condition. However, without the patient’s knowledge, the medication was causing internal injuries of which the plaintiff was completely unaware. The party sees a physician years later and learns that, as a result of taking the medication, they have experienced liver failure. In this situation, the statute of limitations of medical negligence/products liability wouldn’t begin counting down until the patient learned that the medication caused harmful injuries.
In another recent case, a prescribed weight loss medication caused serious cardiac complications. This didn’t come to light until several years later when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested its withdrawal from the market. This particular case involved legal damages totaling over $13 million dollars due to the number of plaintiffs.
High Burden of Proof
The law in this area has created a high standard to determine what the plaintiff should have known particularly in cases involving medical negligence, however. For example, the California Court of Appeal heard two cases against breast implant manufacturing companies.
In the two cases Goldrich v. Natural Y Surgical Specialties, INC. (1994) and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court (Jones) (1995), the courts held that the plaintiffs should have suspected that their injuries were caused by the breast implants more than one year prior to filing suit. Even though the plaintiffs’ claimed that they each didn’t have such a suspicion and even though one plaintiff was told by her doctor that her implants were safe, the court still ruled that these plaintiffs should have known that the breast implants were the cause of their injuries.
Under California law even the slightest suspicion of wrongdoing, coupled with knowledge of the harm and its cause, will commence the ticking clock of the limitations period. Once the clock starts ticking, a complaint must be filed within two years for a victim to obtain his or her compensation by the justice of their legal rights.