One important matter all potential litigants need to consider prior to preparing a lawsuit is whether their claims have expired.
Most potential claims will be subject to something called a “statute of limitations,” defined as any law that bars claims after a certain period of time passes after an injury. This means that, even if you can definitively prove that someone injured you, if you wait too long and let the time period under the statute run out, you may be barred from bringing the claim. We say “may be” because a legal analysis is needed with respect to your fact situation to determine if the statute has run.
Purpose of Statutes of Limitations
The purpose of statutes of limitations is primarily to protect defendants. Interestingly, its application goes all the way back to Ancient Athens (where it established a five-year statute of limitations for almost all cases). Three public policy arguments support the ongoing use of statutes of limitations:
- A plaintiff with a valid cause of action should pursue it with reasonable diligence.
- By the time a stale claim is litigated, a defendant might have lost evidence necessary to disprove the claim.
- Litigation of a long-dormant claim may result in more cruelty than justice. For example, a potential defendant may have moved on with their life, created new bonds, and/or has moved far away since the date of injury/discovery; forcing them to litigate could disrupt their lives more heavily than the alleged injury he or she committed is meant to impose. More importantly, valuable documentary evidence might have been lost, witness memories eroded by the passage of time, and physical evidence destroyed, sold, or gifted away.
Variations of Statutes of Limitations
Importantly, the period of time varies based on jurisdiction and the type of claim. Colorado will have different statutes of limitations as compared with Arizona, California, etc. Additionally, there is not a single “blanket” time limit for claims: they vary greatly based on the exact type of claim attached to it. Generally speaking, most statutes of limitations in Colorado vary from about 1 to 6 years in length, with the majority of time limits falling in the 1-3 year timeframe from when you are injured or some other wrong was inflicted on you. It is relatively rare to be able to sue after 10 years, but that might still be possible under unusual circumstances.
How to Calculate
In order to calculate when your potential claim's statute of limitations will run, your lawyer will typically start from the date of injury or when you discovered it (or the date on which it would have been discovered with reasonable efforts if earlier). Then, the lawyer will add the amount of time allowed by the applicable statute.
As a practical matter, do not wait until the last minute before seeking legal advice. Even if you make efforts to retain counsel within a few days before the statute of limitations runs, you might face difficulties. An attorney might not feel comfortable with the short amount of time they have to look into the claim and complete other pre-filing preparation before filing suit. Alternatively, if you do retain an attorney, he or she may not be able to flesh out your claim in the pleadings as much as you would have liked due to the restricted amount of time he or she had to work on it. Bottom line: don't risk the stress! Seek legal advice as soon as your injury occurs.
Although rarely applicable, many jurisdictions “toll” (suspend) the limitation period in exceptional circumstances such as intimidation of the injured/harmed party, if the injured/harmed party was a minor when the injury occurred, or the injured/harmed party has filed a bankruptcy proceeding. In such cases, the statute of limitations may be “tolled” (paused) until the condition ends. Following the intimidation, reaching an adult age, or resolving bankruptcy issues, the statute of limitations will often begin to run once more.
Contact an Attorney Today
Are you thinking about suing or have been sued? Reach out to Volpe Law today to schedule a consultation. We can be contacted through our online form or call us directly at (720) 441-3328. Our team of dedicated attorneys are here to listen to your case and identify the best legal options for you.
The information contained in this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice and should not be construed as providing legal advice on any subject matter.