A statute of limitations sets a specific amount of time following an injury or accident for a person or company to file a lawsuit and seek a remedy. Once the time specified by the statute has passed, a claim concerning the accident or injury is barred.
The amount of time available to file a lawsuit concerning a particular injury or accident depends upon the nature of the claim. In general, these statutes are intended to encourage people with claims to pursue them with some diligence; that is meant to ensure, among other things, that evidence concerning the claim remains fresh and available.
Under Texas law, the statute of limitations begins to run when a claim “accrues.”
In some types of cases, the statute of limitations will specify when a claim accrues. Where the statute does not provide that sort of guidance, Texas courts explain that a claim accrues when facts come into existence that authorizes a claimant to seek a remedy from a court.*
With most personal injury actions, the date of accrual will be fairly obvious: an accident will occur and the accident will cause an injury; in that circumstance, the claim accrues when the accident occurs. In most instances, that is true even if the injured person is not aware that he or she has been injured; it is also true if the fact of an injury is known, but its cause is unclear. For that reason, where the accident causes death, a claim arising from that accident “accrues” in Texas law when the injured person dies.
It should be noted that there are types of cases in which the accrual date may depend on other facts. Where it may not be clear, an attorney will need to assess when the claim may have accrued.
In Texas, a personal injury claim is generally subject to a two-year limitations period that governs.** But other types of claims may have shorter or longer statutes of limitations. For instance, certain claims in Texas are subject to a one-year limitations period, including claims for libel, slander, or beach of a promise of marriage.
A claim for misappropriation of trade secrets must be asserted within 3 years of the date the misappropriation was discovered or should have been discovered by the exercise of reasonable diligence.***
Claims for things like breach of contract, fraud, or breach of fiduciary duty must be filed within 4 years of the date those claims accrued; similarly, partnership disputes and claims to enforce contracts concerning the sale or transfer of real property are subject to the 4-year statute of limitations.****
Other types of claims may be subject to other statutes. For instance, in Texas, there is a statute that specifically establishes a statute of limitations for claims related to asbestos exposure and another related to claims against certain professionals like architects and engineers.*****
Some injuries or claims are not obvious. To protect people who may not know that they have been injured or that their injuries were caused by the harmful acts of another, most states will suspend the statute of limitations in some cases. This concept is known as “tolling.” Generally, the statute of limitations will begin to run when a person knows or should have known of a claim. That usually requires the injured person to take reasonable steps to investigate whether or not there may be a claim.
But where a person has taken reasonable steps, or where the injury is not obvious, courts will sometimes find that the statute of limitations was tolled until the investigation revealed a claim or until the injury became known. A prime example may be in certain types of claims concerning injuries caused by pharmaceuticals. The injury may have begun the first time the patient ingested the drug, but the patient might not know of the injury until many years later. In a circumstance like that one, a court may conclude that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the injury was discovered; from that point, a claim must be filed within the time permitted by the statute of limitations beginning on the date of discovery.
The same principle may, in some cases, toll the statute of limitations where a potential defendant has, by fraudulent means, concealed the wrongdoing from the plaintiff.
In other cases, the statute of limitations is tolled for reasons that relate to the injured person. For example, when a person who is under 18 years old is injured, the statute of limitations may be tolled until he reaches the age of 18 (the age of majority). Similarly, when a person is of unsound mind before the injury occurs, the statute of limitations may be tolled until that disability is cured.
With each of these possibilities, though, it would be imprudent to simply assume that the potential for tolling will save a claim after a long lapse of time. Whether the statute of limitations will be tolled in any particular case is left to the judgment of the court. Thus, an injured person considering a lawsuit should act quickly to meet with a lawyer and assess the available options.
Michael J. Murray
Board Certified – Civil Appellate Law
Texas Board of Legal Specialization
WATTS GUERRA LLP
Four Dominion Drive, Bldg. Three, Suite 100
San Antonio, Texas 78257
Phone: (210) 447-0500
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