If you're thinking about making a personal injury claim after any kind of accident in New Jersey, it's important to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your potential case. As background, a "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit. Every state has passed these kinds of laws, with different deadlines for different types of cases.
The statute of limitations that will apply to almost all personal injury lawsuits in New Jersey can be found at New Jersey Statutes section 2A:14-2, which says: "Every action at law for an injury to the person caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of any person within this State shall be commenced within two years next after the cause of any such action shall have accrued."
So, if you were injured in a car accident, in a slip and fall, or in almost any other accident caused by someone else's negligence or wrongdoing, you have two years to get your lawsuit filed against that person, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the incident.
If you don't get your lawsuit filed before the time limit passes, the person you are trying to sue will likely make a motion to dismiss your lawsuit, the court will grant it, and just like that your personal injury case will be over before it can even get started. That's why it's crucial to understand and abide by the deadline.
"Tolling" the New Jersey Statute of Limitations
There are a few situations in which the running of the New Jersey statute of limitations "clock" is paused or "tolled," so that the filing deadline is extended. Here are a few examples:
- If, at the time of the underlying accident, the injured person is under 18 years old, or if a mental disability prevents the injured person from understanding his/her legal rights and bringing a legal action, once the person turns 18 or re-gains the proper mental capacity, he or she will be entitled to the full two years to get their personal injury lawsuit filed. (New Jersey Statutes section 2A:14-21.)
- If the person responsible for the plaintiff's injuries leaves the state at some point after the accident, but before a lawsuit can be filed, the time of absence probably won't be counted as part of the two years. But in order to get the filing deadline extended, the plaintiff (or his/her attorney) will probably need to file an affidavit saying that, after "diligent inquiry and effort," it wasn't possible to serve the absent defendant with the required lawsuit documents. (New Jersey Statutes section 2A:14-22.)
Even if you're in settlement talks and you don't think you're going to file a lawsuit over your injury, it's important to keep the statute of limitations deadline in mind. You always want to make sure you can take the case to court if you have to. Lose that option, and you lose your leverage in settlement talks. (Learn more about The Role of Insurance in Settling an Injury Claim.)
If you've got questions about New Jersey's personal injury statute of limitations and how it applies to your situation, it's time to contact an experienced New Jersey personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected. That's especially true if you think you've already missed the filing deadline, or if it is right around the corner. (Learn more about Working With a Personal Injury Lawyer.)