26th Jun 2014

Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a law which places a time limit on pursuing a legal remedy.  Unless you institute a legal action within the time prescribed by law (without an applicable legal exception), you may be precluded from taking legal action to recover damages, enforce the terms of a contract, or obtain other relief.

How many different statutes are there?

Although people often speak of “the statute of limitation,” in fact there are several different statutes which apply limitation periods to civil and criminal actions.  This can sometimes make it difficult to realize which specific time requirements are applicable to your particular circumstance.  Accordingly, it is a good idea for anyone who is concerned about losing their right to sue as a result of the expiration of the statutory limitations period, to consult with a qualified lawyer, who can help determine which statute applies, and help preserve the right to recover damages.

Specific civil statutes

Listed below is a non-exclusive list of the more common statutory limitation periods in Utah.  Please note that it may be possible to bring multiple causes of action from a single incident of wrongful conduct, and thus even if it appears that the relevant statute of limitations has run it may still be possible to bring a different claim.  Furthermore, there could be an exception to the standard limitation period which could apply to a particular situation.  As with any law, any given statute of limitation may be modified by legislative action.  Accordingly it is always wise to review the most recent statutory revisions and verify the statutory time period and its relevance to your situation with a qualified Utah lawyer.

Personal Injury: Generally, for a personal injury the statue is four (4) years. However, under specific circumstances, certain causes of action may have different limitations periods. For example, a two (2) year limitations period applies to wrongful death actions.

Fraud: three (3) years.

Damage to personal property: three (3) years.

Product liability: two (2) years after the plaintiff suffers injury, or within two (2) years from the date the plaintiff discovers or should have discovered the injury.

Contracts: (a). Oral contracts, four (4) years; (b). written contracts, six (6) years.

Statute of repose

A statute of repose is different from a statute of limitation, in that after the statutory period has expired it is not possible to file a lawsuit even if an injury occurs after that time.  For example, if you own a 1960 Ford motor car and are injured in an accident in 2011, you may have a cause of action for injuries from a variety of potential defendants – another negligent driver, improper road construction, etc.  However, if there happens to be a twenty year statute of repose on the manufacture of automobiles, you could not file a legal action against Ford even if there were a design defect which caused the accident.  The reason behind this is that the legislature has determined that at some point in time, no legal action may be maintained.

Accrual of claims

A statute of limitations is said to start running at the time a claim arises; as a general rule, that is the time at which an injury is suffered.

The discovery rule

Sometimes it is not reasonably possible for a person to discover the cause of an injury, or even to know that an injury has occurred, until considerably after the act which causes the injury. For example, an error in the drafting of a will might not be noticed until the will is being probated, decades after it was drafted, or a bookkeeper’s embezzlement might not be noticed for years due to the issuance of false statements of account.

When it applies, the “discovery rule” permits a suit to be filed within a certain period of time after the injury is discovered, or reasonably should have been discovered. The discovery rule does not apply to all civil injuries, and sometimes the period of time for bringing a claim post-discovery can be short, so it is important to seek legal assistance quickly in the event of the late discovery of an injury.

Tolling of the statute of limitations

In addition to late discovery, it may be possible to avoid the harsh result of a statute of limitation by arguing that the statute has been “tolled”, or that something has stopped the statute from running for a period of time. Typical reasons for tolling a statute of limitations include minority (the victim of the injury was a minor at the time the injury occurred), mental incompetence (the victim of the injury was not mentally competent at the time the injury occurred), and the defendant’s bankruptcy (the “automatic stay” in bankruptcy ordinarily tolls the statute of limitations until such time as the bankruptcy is resolved or the stay is lifted).

Under Utah law, a statute of limitations begins to run on a minor’s eighteenth birthday. However, for medical malpractice cases, the one year limit relating to the discovery of a foreign object applies to all plaintiffs without regard to age or disability.

Contractual limitations

It is often possible to shorten a statutory limitations period by contract. For example, an employment contract might require that any claim relating to the employment relationship, including wrongful termination, be filed within one year of the claimed wrongful conduct. Courts often uphold these clauses, particularly in the context of business transactions, even though they provide for a shorter limitations period than the statute of limitations would otherwise apply.

For these reasons, if there is any concern about a statute of limitations or a statute of repose it is best to contact a qualified lawyer to discuss what options are available to you.

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