After any kind of accident in New York, if you are thinking about filing a personal injury claim, it is critical that you understand the statute of limitations that applies to your potential case. (Note: To translate the legalese, a “statute of limitations” is just a law that puts a strict time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in your state's civil court system.)
The statute of limitations that will apply to almost all personal injury lawsuits in New York can be found at New York Civil Practice Laws & Rules section 214, which states that "an action to recover damages for a personal injury" must be filed within three years.
That means, if you are filing a lawsuit over an accident caused by someone else's negligence or wrongdoing -- including a car accident, a slip and fall, or a dog bite -- you have three years to get the case started, and the “clock” starts running on the date of the underlying incident.
If you don't get your lawsuit filed before the three-year window closes, the person you are trying to sue will likely make a motion to dismiss your lawsuit, and the court will grant it (unless an exception applies to extend the deadline; more on these in the next section). If that happens, you lose your right to hold the other party responsible for your injuries and other losses. That's why it's crucial to understand and abide by the deadline.
"Tolling" the New York Statute of Limitations
There are a few situations in which the running of the New York statute of limitations “clock” is paused or “tolled,” so that the filing deadline is extended. Here are a few examples:
- The injured person, at the time of the underlying accident, is "under a disability because of infancy or insanity" (meaning they are considered a minor or mentally incompetent). (New York Civil Practice Law & Rules section 208.)
- The person the lawsuit is being filed against (the potential defendant) is absent from the state of New York for four months or more, or is living in the state under a false name that is not known to the plaintiff. (New York Civil Practice Law & Rules section 207.)
It's important to note this isn't an exhaustive list, and the effect of the "tolling" -- when the clock starts running again, for example -- varies based on the specifics of the case. Talk to a New York attorney for the details on exceptions to the personal injury statute of limitations.
Even if you doubt that you're going to file a personal injury lawsuit over your accident -- maybe you're already in serious settlement talks with the at-fault party's insurance company -- it's still important to keep the statute of limitations deadline in mind. If you don't get the claim process started right away, or if the other side is dragging its heels, two years can pass by pretty quickly. You always want to make sure you have the option of taking your case to court. Lose that option, and you lose your leverage during settlement discussions.
If you've got questions about New York's personal injury statute of limitations and how it applies to your situation, contact an experienced New York personal injury attorney to discuss your case and make sure your rights are protected. That's especially true if the filing deadline is right around the corner. (Learn more about Working With a Personal Injury Lawyer.)