You may know that time limits apply to personal injury lawsuits. A person hurt in a car accident, on a dangerous walkway, or by a defective product or other wrongfully caused trauma has only a certain amount of time to take legal action. If he or she waits too long, then his or her claim may be barred regardless of whether it would otherwise prevail after a trial.
Calculating those time limits isn’t as easy as it might appear. Various statutes of limitation apply different periods to different types of legal claim. Some may seen quite lengthy and others much shorter. An action for breach of contract, for example, must be filed within six years. ORS 12.080(1). A claim for wrongful death must be started on behalf of a decedent within three years of the injury causing the person’s death. ORS 30.020(1). Oregon’s general personal injury time limit is two years. This limit applies to actions for medical malpractice, including surgical and dental malpractice. ORS12.110(4). The two-year limit also applies to product liability claims for injuries arising out of dangerous products. ORS 30.905. Actions arising under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (ORS 12.125) and actions for libel or slander (ORS 12.120(2)) have only one-year limits.; Notice to an employer of a work accident resulting in injury or death must generally be given immediately but not later than 90 days after the accident. ORS 656.265(1).
Other requirements may shorten time periods and can easily surprise an unrepresented injured person. If a government agency is involved, for example, the Oregon Tort Claims Act requires that notice of the potential claim be given to the agency within 180 days. Failure to do so provides the agency with a defense even if the claim is later filed within the applicable time limit.
The starting time for the limit must also be evaluated. In some cases, for example, the clock doesn’t start running until the injured person discovers the claim. A person “discovers” that he or she has a claim when a reasonable person would be aware of a substantial possibility that harm has been caused by someone else’s wrongful conduct.
The complexity and critical nature of statutes of limitation mean that an attorney’s help should be promptly obtained in all serious injury cases. It’s easy to think that there will be plenty of time to talk to a lawyer, and the injured person needs to and should focus on healing. If too much time passes, however, even the most skilled personal injury attorney with the most favorable facts may be unable to assist a person in recovering compensation.