A statute of limitations is a state law that puts a strictly-enforced time limit on your right to ask a court for a legal remedy after you've suffered some kind of harm or loss. Every state has these kinds of statutes on the books, with time limits that vary based on the kind of case being filed.
The Standard Deadline is Two Years in Texas
Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 16.003 sets the statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit at two years. That means, if you suffer an injury as a result of a motor vehicle collision, slip and fall, dog bite or other accident, you will have two years from the date the injury to file your case in the proper branch of the Texas civil court system. If you don't file your lawsuit within that two-year period, the court can dismiss your case, and you will lose your right to compensation for your injuries and other losses. (More: How and where do I file a personal injury lawsuit?)
Can the Two-Year Period Ever Be Extended in Texas?
While the statute of limitations is very strictly enforced in Texas (as it is in every state), there are some situations where the time to file your personal injury lawsuit may be extended.
The first exception is often referred to as “the discovery rule.” The discovery rule usually comes into play in cases where the injury has occurred over time and cannot be traced back to a specific incident, such as with exposure to asbestos or some other harmful substance. In order to take advantage of this exception, the injured person must usually be able to prove that the injury was not "reasonably discoverable" within the time limit set by the statute of limitations.
Under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 16.001, the time to file a personal injury lawsuit can also be extended if the injured party was a minor (under 18) or was "of unsound mind" at the time of the underlying accident. In those situations, Texas law considers the injured person to be under a "legal disability," so the two-year "clock" usually won't start running until the disability is lifted, meaning the person turns 18 or is declared to be of sound mind.
As an example, imagine that Molly and her 16-year-old daughter Deanna are driving through a Dallas intersection when another car runs a stop sign, resulting in serious injuries to both Molly and Deanna. They both seek medical treatment immediately, but do not consult an attorney until three years after the accident. The attorney advises Molly that it is too late for her to file a civil lawsuit over the crash, as the two-year statute of limitations window has already closed on that potential claim. But Deanna, who is now 19 years old, still has a year left to file suit. Because she is a minor, the two-year statute of limitations for her personal injury claim had been “tolled” until she turned 18.
Another situation that could effectively extend the two-year time period is where the defendant (the person who allegedly caused the plaintiff's injury) leaves the state of Texas at some point after the underlying accident, but before the personal injury lawsuit can be filed. In that scenario, according to Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 16.063, the "clock" will be suspended for the period of the defendant's absence.
If you have questions about how the Texas statute of limitations applies to your potential personal injury claim, or if the filing deadline is approaching, it may be time to sit down and discuss the situation with an experienced Texas personal injury lawyer. (More: Why It's a Good Idea to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer.)