Understanding the Statute of Limitations and Your Personal Injury Case
You may have the right to file a lawsuit and obtain compensation after an injury-causing accident. However, you could forfeit that right if you don’t act quickly. While Texas allows you to demand money for your injuries, it also limits the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. This is known as a statute of limitations.
Why Does Texas Have a Statute of Limitations?
There are statutes of limitations for both criminal and civil matters. Texas imposes a statute of limitations in civil personal injury cases for several reasons. These include:
- Encouraging injured parties to file complaints quickly
- Ensuring that civil disputes are based on the best possible evidence, and
- Preventing a plaintiff from abusing the tort law system by litigating an old matter.
There’s an interest in litigating civil disputes as soon as possible. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, an injured plaintiff will lose their right to recover damages if they allow the statute of limitations to expire before they file a claim.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Cases in Texas?
Generally speaking, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Texas is two years. The two-year clock begins to run when an accident occurs or when a victim discovers an injury, whichever is later. You must file your personal injury claim for damages no later than two years after the statute of limitations begins to run.
Tolling the Statute of Limitations
There are certain times when the state will allow you to toll – or pause – the statute of limitations. Tolling means that the clock on your personal injury case is temporarily paused because of an extenuating circumstance.
You might be able to toll the statute of limitations if:
- You were under the age of 18 when you were injured
- You are of unsound mind or mentally incompetent, or
- The defendant in your case has left the state or cannot be located.
You won’t be punished for these circumstances beyond your control. The clock begins to run again once that tolling factor is no longer an issue.
What If I Want to Sue the Government?
The government typically has immunity in personal injury cases. However, thanks to the Texas Tort Claims Act, you might be able to recover compensation if you were injured because a government agency or employee was negligent. For example, let’s say you’re injured in an Austin car accident because the state approved a road design that was inherently dangerous. State officials knew that the road design was a hazard but failed to do anything about it. This negligence was a substantial cause of your accident and injury. You can hold the city accountable for your injuries.
However, the typically two-year statute of limitations doesn’t apply. Government claims are subject to their own set of rules and procedures. You must file your injury claim with the government agency from which you’re seeking compensation within 6 months of your accident.
Some cities and municipalities in Texas have even stricter filing requirements. For example, if you want to file a claim against the city of Austin, you’ll only have 45 days to do so.
A Statute of Repose Could Also Affect Your Personal Injury Claim
You usually have two years from the date you discover your injury to file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas. However, in some cases, that two-year window won’t last forever. Texas also has what are known as statutes of repose.
With a statute of repose, your right to file a lawsuit expires if you haven’t discovered your injury within a certain amount of time. Statutes of repose most typically affect medical malpractice and product liability claims.
The statute of repose for medical malpractice lawsuits is ten years from the date of the injury-causing event. One a decade has passed, you will automatically be barred from bringing a personal injury claim, regardless of when you discover your injury. So, if 11 years after surgery you realize that you’ve been injured, you cannot sue the negligent doctor or healthcare provider. The statute of repose prohibits it.
The statute of repose for product liability lawsuits is 15 years from the date of purchase. You cannot sue the manufacturer if you are harmed because of its product more than a decade and a half after you first bought it.