Personal Injury

How Long Do I Have to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in North Carolina?

By David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
If you are thinking about making a personal injury claim after an accident in North Carolina, it's important to understand the statute of limitations, and how it applies to your potential case.

If you are thinking about making a personal injury claim after an accident in North Carolina, it's important to understand the statute of limitations, and how it applies to your potential case.

A “statute of limitations” is simply a law that sets a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit. Every state has these kinds of laws on the books, with different deadlines depending on the kind of case you want to file.

Now, onto the specifics of the law in North Carolina, where North Carolina General Statutes section 1-52 says that any lawsuit seeking a legal remedy for "injury to the person" must be filed within three years.

In plain English, this means if you were hurt in a car accident, in a slip and fall, or in almost any other situation where someone else's carelessness played a part in causing your injuries, you have three years to get your lawsuit filed, and the “clock” starts running on the date of the underlying incident. (Learn more about Common Types of Personal Injury Claims.)

If you don't get your North Carolina personal injury lawsuit started before the three-year time period passes, it is a near-certainty that the person you are trying to sue will ask the court to dismiss your lawsuit, and the court will almost surely grant the request, leaving you without a legal remedy for your injuries and other losses stemming from the accident.

Exceptions to the North Carolina Statute of Limitations

There are some rare situations where the running of the statute of limitations “clock” can be paused or “tolled” in North Carolina -- in other words, the filing deadline is extended beyond the statutory three years. For example:

  • If the injured person is subject to a "legal disability" -- under the age of 18, or considered "insane" or "incompetent" under North Carolina law -- the three-year "clock" for getting the personal injury lawsuit filed probably won't begin to run until the legal disability is "lifted", meaning the person turns 18, or is deemed sane or competent. (North Carolina General Statutes section 1-17.)
  • If, after the underlying accident, but before a lawsuit can be filed, the defendant "departs from and resides out of" the state of North Carolina, or if he or she "remains continuously absent" from the state for a period of one year or more, the period of absence likely won't be counted as part of the three years. (North Carolina General Statutes section 1-21.)

If you have specific questions about extending the filing deadline in North Carolina, an experienced personal injury attorney will have the answers.

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, three 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 all your leverage during injury settlement negotiations. (Learn more about The Role of Insurance in Settling an Injury Claim.)

If you need more details on the North Carolina personal injury statute of limitations and how it applies to your potential case -- and especially if the filing deadline is quickly approaching -- contact an experienced North Carolina personal injury attorney to make sure your legal options are preserved.

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