Notice: This overview of Pennsylvania’s laws regarding “statute of limitations” is believed to be accurate, but was not written to provide a thorough analysis of all statutory limitations on the right to sue. Keep in mind that laws also change, sometimes dramatically, over time and depending on the exact area where you live. If you want to read a full review of PA’s statute of limitations law, or see how the law works with particular injuries or incidents, contact a qualified Pennsylvania attorney who will be able to walk you through the steps of your specific case.
What is a “Statute of Limitations”?
This type of law places a time limit on a person who wishes to pursue legal action relating to unlawful conduct. Unless other legal exceptions apply, the injured person loses the ability to file a lawsuit or seek money damages after the statutory period expires.
Proliferation of Statutes
We may often hear the term “statute of limitations,” but there are many other statutes that place time restraints on civil actions. Since it can be hard to remember all the various statutes and their exceptions, you may want to meet with a lawyer if you are concerned about the expiration of a statutory limitations period losing you the right to sue. A good attorney will be able to help you decide which statutes apply to your situation and how to protect your right to receive damages.
Specific Civil Actions
Included below is a sampling of Pennsylvania statutory limitations periods for certain cases. Sometimes it is possible for a single “wrongful conduct” incident to bring multiple causes of action, and even if a statute of limitations appears to have run out, you may be able to bring an alternative claim. The following list only provides a few relevant examples, so keep in mind that there may be exceptions to the standard limitations periods. You should contact a qualified Pennsylvania attorney service if you want to find out exactly how the statute of limitations applies to your legal situation and when the limitations period will expire.
Professional Malpractice: 2 years, for professional negligence including medical malpractice
Personal Injury: 2 years
Fraud: 2 years
Libel/Slander/Defamation: 1 year
Personal Property Damage: 2 years
Product Liability: 2 years
Contracts: 20 years, if written and under seal, but otherwise, 4 years.
Statute of Limitations and Statute of Repose
Unlike a statute of limitations, if a “statute of repose” expires, it becomes impossible to file a lawsuit even if an injury happens after that time. If there is a twenty-year statute of repose, for example, on the manufacture of aircraft, one cannot file a claim against the product’s maker more than twenty years after the manufacture date, even if a defect in the aircraft’s design or production causes you to suffer from an injury later.
Accrual of Claims
A statute of limitations begins to takes effect at the time a claim accrues, or builds up. This usually takes place around the time in which an injury occurs, but this is not always the case.
The Discovery Rule
It may not be reasonably possible for a person to find out the cause of an injury, or recognize that an injury has taken place, until after the act that caused the injury is over. For instance, a mistake in the drafting of a will could go unnoticed until after the will is carried out, which may be many years after it was written. A financial planner might also engage in fraud that is not discovered until much later because of the release of false statements of account.
Pennsylvania’s discovery rule allows the plaintiff and defendant to exchange questions, comments, and information so that they are prepared for the trial. The statute of limitations begins when the plaintiff knows or should have known that an injury resulted from another’s actions. This rule does not apply in all civil injury cases, and sometimes the period of time in which one can bring a claim after discovery is brief. If you identify an injury at a later period, you should seek legal assistance as quickly as possible.
Tolling of the Statute of Limitations
You may be able to avoid a statute of limitation by claiming that the statute has been “tolled.” This means that something has prevented the statute from lasting for its appropriate period of time. Someone can “toll” a statute of limitations because he or she was a minor when the injury occurred, or was not mentally competent at the time of injury. The defendant’s bankruptcy may be another reason, since the “automatic stay” in bankruptcy usually tolls the statute of limitations until the bankruptcy is taken care of or the stay is lifted.
Pennsylvania law allows unemancipated minors (those under eighteen who are not completely self-supporting) to file suits within two years of their eighteenth birthdays. Minors must normally file suit within this two year range unless the law provides a longer period or exception.
A statutory limitations period may possibly be shortened by contract. An employment contract, for example, could require that any employment-related claim, including wrongful termination, be filed within a year of the wrongful conduct. These clauses are usually upheld in court, especially if they relate to business transactions; however, they provide a shorter limitations period that would otherwise be in effect with the statute of limitations.