If you have a potential legal claim, the law imposes a deadline for asserting your rights. The term for the deadline is statute of limitations. If you suffered injuries caused by someone else, you must make sure that you assert your claim for compensation before the time limit expires. Understanding the Virginia statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit is extremely important if you have an injury claim in our state.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
Statute of limitations is a confusing term. The term is a general reference to any law that sets a time limit for bringing a specific type of legal action. There is not just one statute of limitations. For different types of state civil (and criminal) actions, individual laws (or statutes) set the time limit for bringing an action. Each law establishes a statute of limitations for a specific kind of legal action.
The legislature imposes the limitations to set a reasonable time limit on pursuing legal rights. Without a time limit, those rights could be asserted far into the future, creating an unfair situation for those who are potentially legally liable.
In Virginia, a specific law sets the statute of limitations for personal injury actions at two years. (The statute treats medical malpractice differently from other personal injury actions — so different rules may apply in a situation involving medical malpractice.) Since the Virginia legislature set the statute of limitations for personal injury actions, an injured victim may not be able to recover compensation for injuries after the two-year time limit expires.
Special rules apply to personal injury claims against the Commonwealth of Virginia or a Virginia municipality. Notice must be given to the state within a year of the injury, or to a local government within six months of the injury. Absent that notice, you may not be able to pursue your claim, event if there is time left under the general two-year statute of limitations. If you have a potential personal injury claim against the state or local government, it is imperative to consult a lawyer at the earliest possible time.
Each state legislature sets the limits for actions brought in that state. As an example of how state laws differ, North Carolina sets the statute of limitations for personal injury actions at three years. If your injuries resulted from an accident in North Carolina, you have a longer time to file a legal action than you do if the accident was in Virginia (where the period is two years).
When Does the Statute of Limitations Countdown Begin?
To determine whether the statute of limitations blocks a personal injury claim, it is necessary to know the starting point for calculating the time. For most personal injury cases (other than some medical malpractice cases), the statute of limitations time requirement is calculated from the date the injury is received. In a motor vehicle accident, the statute of limitations begins to “run” on date of the accident.
In contrast, if an accident gives rise to a wrongful death claim, the calculation for the statute of limitations (which also is two years) begins on the date of death. In the case of a wrongful death and personal injury from an accident, the statute of limitations period for a legal claim generally begins on the date the claim comes into existence. That is also true for most other types of claims. However, for other kinds of cases, the only way to know with certainty what statute of limitations period applies — and when the statute begins to run — is to talk with an attorney experienced in the specific area of law that is involved.
Are There Exceptions to the Virginia Statute of Limitations for a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
In very limited circumstances, the statute of limitations period may be suspended or “tolled” for a period of time. The exceptions will not apply in most personal injury cases. The two-year rule usually applies. (As previously mentioned, this general rule may not apply in medical malpractice cases.)
One notable exception involves injuries to minors or mentally incapacitated individuals. Except for medical malpractice and wrongful death cases, the statute of limitations for injury to a minor begins to run on the minor’s 18th birthday. For someone who is mentally incompetent, the limitation period generally begins to run on the date the disability ends.
What Happens If the Statute of Limitations Runs Out?
If an injured victim files a court action after the statute of limitations expires, the court will dismiss the action. The victim will have no way left to assert the claim. Under the law, the claim is barred.
Filing a lawsuit is the typical way of ensuring that a legal claim is asserted within the applicable statute of limitations. A personal injury lawsuit does not need to conclude within the two-year time limit. Filing the legal documents initiating the action in court protects the victim’s rights.
If you have a personal injury claim, settlement discussions between your attorney and the insurance company may take time. If that time extends long enough that the statute of limitations may expire, your attorney will file a lawsuit to protect your rights.
If you decide to try to negotiate a settlement on your own, and the insurance company manages to extend the time out long enough for the statute of limitations to expire, you will lose your rights and the ability to pursue your claim. Contacting the insurance company and filing a claim does not stop the statute of limitations from expiring.
Why Consulting a Lawyer Is Essential in Serious Personal Injury Cases
If someone seriously injures you, protecting your rights against expiration of the statute of limitations is one of the most important reasons for consulting with an attorney. In any personal injury claim, it is important to talk with an attorney well before the statute of limitations is even close to expiring.
If you suffered serious injuries in an accident that someone else caused, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible after the accident. You may even wish ask a friend or relative to reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney for you.
The best time to gather evidence and investigate an accident is immediately after it occurs. In addition, your attorney will talk with the insurance company on your behalf, so you can focus on recovering rather than fending off insurance adjusters. Speaking with an adjuster is not a good idea in any event. The insurance company will not have your best interests in mind and will try to get you to settle your claim for less than it is worth.
Talk With an Experienced Virginia Beach Personal Injury Lawyer
Virginia Beach attorney Jeffrey Brooke helps injured victims recover the full compensation they deserve. The Jeff Brooke Team will always have your and your family’s interests at heart and aggressively pursue your case. Contact us by phone at (757) 552-6055 or by using our online contact form.
Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.