If you are considering making a personal injury claim against an individual, a business, or some other entity in Maine, you need to understand and abide by the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential lawsuit. Some background: a "statute of limitations” is a law that puts a strict time limit on your right to file a lawsuit, in which you ask your state's civil court system for a legal remedy for your injuries. Every state has these laws on the books, with different deadlines depending on the kind of case you want to file.
For most Maine personal injury claimants, the relevant statute of limitations can be found at Maine Revised Statutes Title 14 Section 752. This law gives a potential plaintiff six years to turn to the state’s civil court system for a remedy after any kind of personal injury or property damage caused by someone else. So, whether your potential lawsuit is over a vehicle accident, a slip and fall, or any other kind of mishap, you need to get it filed within six years of the date on which the underlying incident took place. (Learn more about How and When to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit.)
At this point, you're probably wondering what happens if you don't get your personal injury lawsuit started before Maine's six-year filing deadline passes. In that scenario, it's a safe bet that the person you are trying to sue will ask the court to dismiss your lawsuit, and unless some exception applies to extend the deadline (more on these below) the court will grant the request. If that happens, you’re left with no way to hold the other party responsible for your injuries and other losses.
Even if you don’t think you’re going to file a personal injury lawsuit -- maybe you’re well into the insurance settlement process -- it's still important to keep the statute of limitations in mind. Six years is a long time, but you always want to make sure you have the option of taking your case to court. Lose that option and you lose your negotiating leverage during injury settlement talks. (Learn more about The Role of Insurance in Settling an Injury Claim.)
Exceptions to the Running of the Statute of Limitations “Clock” in Maine
In Maine, as in every state, there are some situations that might pause or “toll” the running of the statute of limitations “clock,” so that the filing deadline is pushed forward.
You'll find one of the most common of these exceptions at Maine Revised Statutes Title 14 Section 807, which reads: “When such right of entry or action first accrues, if the person thereto entitled is a minor, mentally ill, imprisoned or absent from the United States, he, or anyone claiming under him, may make the entry or bring the action at any time within 10 years after such disability is removed, notwithstanding 20 years have expired.”
To translate, if the injured person falls into one of those listed categories (he or she is under 18, mentally ill, incarcerated, or out of the country), once those circumstances are removed (meaning the person turns 18, is declared mentally competent, is released from incarceration, or returns to the U.S.), the case can be filed any time within the next 10 years, as long as no more than 20 years have passed since the incident that originally gave rise to the lawsuit.
It's important to speak with an attorney to understand exactly how “tolling” applies to a given situation. If you have specific questions about extending the statute of limitations deadline, or about the lawsuit process in general, a knowledgeable Maine personal injury attorney will have the answers.