A statute of limitations sets the time in which a person must bring a lawsuit. The specific statute of limitations for personal injury actions varies from state to state and can range from one year to six years. If a personal injury lawsuit is filed beyond the statute of limitations, the court is likely to dismiss the lawsuit.

The Discovery Rule

The statute of limitations for a personal injury suit generally begins to run from the time the person sustains an injury. Some personal injuries are not immediately evident. Under the “discovery rule”, the statute of limitations begins to run when the person, through the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known he was injured.

For example, if a person was in a car accident, the statute of limitations period generally begins to run from the time of the accident because the injuries are obvious. In cases such as medical malpractice, toxic substances, and defective products, injuries can take a long time to manifest. Therefore, the statute of limitations usually does not begin to run until the injured person should have reasonably discovered the injury.

Different Types of Personal Injury Lawsuits

The statute of limitations that applies to a personal injury case depends upon the type of injury sustained and the injured person’s status.

Statute of Limitations Based on Type of Injury, Intent

Lawsuits that involve personal injuries such as defamation often have longer statute of limitations. On the other hand, cases involving medical malpractice typically have shorter statute of limitations.

Generally, the statute of limitations is shorter for intentional torts than for negligent torts. Thus, intent is a factor taken into consideration in many personal injury statutes of limitations.

Minors and Mentally Incompetent Persons

When an injured person is a minor, the statute of limitations usually does not begin to run until the minor reaches the age of majority. If a person is incompetent or otherwise incapacitated, the statute of limitations is generally tolled for a specific period of time. This means that the statute of limitations will not run while the person remains incapacitated.

Personal Injury Suit Against a Governmental Unit

Many states have statutes or ordinances that limit personal injury suits against governmental units such as a school, hospital, city, county, law enforcement agency, or department of corrections. This type of statute typically requires an injured person to first give a notice of claim to the governmental unit. The injured person must make this claim within the time set by the statute.

The governmental has a specific period of time in which to either allow or disallow the claim. Once this time has expired, the injured person then must bring suit within the statute of limitations as specified in the statute. This statute of limitations is typically much shorter in governmental unit suits than for other defendants.


Every state has a statute of limitations that determines how long a person has to file a personal injury lawsuit. Suits brought outside the statute of limitations are subject to dismissal.

The statutes of limitations usually vary according to the type of injury and the type of defendant. If a person is incompetent or a minor, the statute of limitation is usually tolled, meaning it will not run, until the disability is lifted. Before bringing a personal injury suit, it is very important to check with the applicable statute of limitations in the state in which the suit will be brought.