What is a statute of limitations?

Simply put, a statute of limitations is the deadline to bring a legal action. It is the date by which a lawsuit must be filed and if suit is not filed by that date there are severe consequences. A lawsuit is more than simply “making a claim”. The statute of limitations requires that a complaint be filed in the correct court and against the proper party or parties. Failure to do so will almost always mean the case is over for the person making the claim.

As an example, assume a person waiting at a stoplight somewhere in Arizona, is hit by another driver. The person that was hit has a claim, so she can be referred to as the claimant. The claimant might open a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. The claimant and the insurance company could come to an agreement to settle the claim. But if the claim has not been settled by the date of the statute of limitations, the claimant must file a lawsuit. If the statute of limitations passes and the claimant has not settled the claim and has not filed suit, then the claim will be barred. This means the insurance company will not have to pay the claim.

What the specific statute of limitations is will depend on the type of case and the party or parties being sued. Using the example above, if the driver who caused the collision is a private citizen, on private business at the time of the collision, one particular statute of limitations will apply. If, however, he was working for a government entity at the time of the collision, another statute of limitations will apply. Complicating things further, additional administrative procedures and deadlines are required depending on whether the at-fault driver is working for a federal agency or state agency at the time of the collision. One such administrative procedure requires the claimant to take some specific action within 180 days of the date the claim arose. Knowing early in the case, what statute of limitations and administrative deadlines apply, therefore, is important.