A statute of limitations is a law that limits the time you have to sue or to be prosecuted. Statutes of limitations are intended to prevent unfairness to defendants by requiring parties to use the courts in a fair time period or not at all.
Every state’s statutes of limitations are different, depending on the seriousness of the matter at hand and the government’s priorities. The state of Texas has relatively short statutes of limitations.
Personal Injury Lawsuits
In Texas, a claimant has two years to file most personal injury suits involving damages to a person or property. These include:
- Auto accidents
- Slipping and falling
- Wrongful death
- Medical malpractice, including birth injuries
- Workplace injuries that are not covered by workers’ compensation
See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 16.003, 74.251.
The two years are calculated from the date of the injury—or the date on which the claimant knew or reasonably should have known that the injury occurred. If the suit is for wrongful death, the period begins on the date of death.
For medical malpractice, the two years begin on the date of the occurrence that led to injury or the day that the treatment was completed. If the plaintiff was a minor under 12, they have until their 14th birthday to file a suit. Nonetheless, the plaintiff must file before 10 years have passed. This 10-year provision is called a “statute of repose,” a hard limit intended to cut off any suit.
The law surrounding product liability lawsuits—for injuries arising from defective purchases—is more complex. A plaintiff has a two-year statute of limitations, but they must also be aware of the statute of repose—15 years after the first sale of the item. See § 16.012. That period does not apply if the manufacturer claimed the product to have a useful life of over 15 years. It will also not apply to a case where a plaintiff had a disease that did not “manifest … to a degree and for a duration that would put a reasonable person on notice that the person suffered some injury.”
Lawsuits for injuries and diseases arising from silica exposure or from asbestos exposure are also subject to complicated statutes of limitations. A plaintiff has two years from exposure, discovery, or the service of a verified medical report with specific findings regarding the cause of their illness. Someone seeking relief from silicosis or asbestos-related ailments may be subject to differing statutes of limitations if they performed work for the government; they may also have other options for recovery and financial support. It is vital to consult an attorney about these issues.
Tort Claims Acts: Federal and State
When a plaintiff has a personal injury claim against an employee or branch of the federal or state government, the rules are different. Plaintiffs can only make claims in limited ways defined by law.
The Federal Tort Claims Act provides a strict two-year statute of limitations for claims filed against the government. Before filing a lawsuit, anyone seeking damages must file their claim with the agency involved, which has six months to resolve the claim. If it is denied, the claimant may file a lawsuit in federal court, and they must do so within six months of the denial.
Similarly, under the Texas Tort Claims Act, an injured party must give notice of their claim with the appropriate unit of the state within six months—or less, if the claim is against a municipality that has a shorter notice period by law.
Exceptions to the Running of Statutes of Limitations
Most statutes of limitations have exceptions. Some exceptions are contained in the statute’s language, and some apply to every statute of limitations.
In Texas, there are longer statutory periods for personal injury suits arising from various criminal sexual offenses. A plaintiff who was sexually abused or trafficked when they were a minor or disabled has 30 years to sue for personal injury. Victims who were not minors or disabled at the time have five years to file a suit.
Some circumstances can pause the running of a statute of limitations, which is called “tolling.” Under Texas law, a statute of limitations does not begin to run for a person “under a legal disability” at the time that their injury occurred. This refers to people under 18 years of age and people “of unsound mind,” or mentally incapacitated. When the person regains capacity or comes of age, the statute begins to run.
If a prospective claimant dies while they still have a cause of action, the statute of limitations is tolled for 12 months or until their estate has a qualified administrator or executor. See § 16.062. Likewise, if a prospective defendant flees the state to avoid a civil suit, the statute of limitations is tolled until they return—there is no waiting it out. See § 16.063.
Do You Still Have a Claim?
Statutes of limitations can be confusing. An experienced attorney will understand how to determine whether your circumstances tolled the statute, allowing you to seek relief in ways that might not be obvious at first.
If you believe you have a personal injury claim in Texas, talk to the “Crash Angels”—the attorneys of the Pelaez Law Firm, Crash Angels. We will fight to make your recovery possible and get you the compensation you need to get your life back on track. Call 210-801-9314 today to schedule a free consultation in our San Antonio offices.