If you have been injured in an accident due to the fault of another, you may be entitled to compensation under the law. Many plaintiffs focus on their medical care (and rightfully so, as medical care should be a priority), but do not necessarily seek legal assistance until it’s too late. Waiting too long to consult an attorney and bring an action against the liable defendants could have a significant impact on your ability to recover damages for your claims.
Let’s take a closer look.
Throughout the United States — every jurisdiction — personal injury claims are subject to different statute of limitations deadlines. In Alabama, for example, the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims is two years from the date of the accident.
Statutes of limitations are meant to give the defendant a bit of breathing room, so that a plaintiff cannot hassle them with claims too far into the future (there is, of course, also the issue of gathering evidence when a claim is filed at a significantly later date).
As the plaintiff, if you do not follow proper procedure and file your claims before the statute of limitations deadline passes, then the court will automatically dismiss the claims, leaving you without an opportunity to secure compensation through the litigation.
Fortunately, even if you think you’re late in filing your claims, exceptions may apply. The discovery rule is perhaps the most significant exception to the application of the statute of limitations deadline.
The discovery rule is rather simple. Essentially, the rule prevents the statute of limitations period from “starting to countdown” until the plaintiff actually discovers (or reasonably should have discovered) their injuries.
Let’s explore a brief example to clarify how this works.
Suppose that you slip and fall at the defendant’s retail store due to a slick floor. You’re a bit sore from the fall, but you don’t feel any further pain or experience any impairments. As such, you don’t realize that you were actually injured. It isn’t until three years later that you begin to feel serious pain and movement impairments, which your doctor then subsequently diagnoses and points out is related to the fall.
Given the amount of time that has passed, you would normally be prevented from successfully suing the defendant due to the statute of limitations issue. The discovery rule would apply under these circumstances, however, thus preserving your claims.
As you could not have reasonably discovered the injury itself until the symptoms began to show, your statute of limitations period would only begin to countdown from the date where you linked together the injury symptoms with the slip and fall accident (here, the diagnosis date).
Even if you are unsure about the prospect of personal injury litigation, it’s important that you contact a qualified attorney as soon as possible so that your claims can be evaluated in a timely manner — in the event that you choose to pursue litigation, early consultation will help to minimize the possibility of “missing” the applicable statute of limitations deadline.