How Long Do I Have to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in North Dakota?
David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
Here's how North Dakota's personal injury statute of limitations works, and why it's critical to follow the filing deadline set by this law.
If you're thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in North Dakota, one of your first considerations is the statute of limitations and how it applies to your potential case. If you miss the filing deadline set by this law, you're almost certain to lose your right to any legal remedy against the person who caused your accident. Read on for the details of this law, and a few exceptions that could extend the filing deadline in North Dakota.
You Have Six Years to File Most Personal Injury Lawsuits in North Dakota
Under North Dakota Century Code section 28-01-16, you have six years to ask the state's courts for a civil remedy for an injury suffered as a result of someone else's action (whether the injury is the result of carelessness or intentional conduct).
So, whether it's based on a car accident, a slip and fall, or purposeful action like an assault, if you want to file a personal injury lawsuit of any kind in North Dakota, you need to get the initial paperwork -- including the personal injury complaint -- filed in the state's civil court within six years. The "clock" starts running on the date of the underlying incident (unless an exception to the standard deadline applies; more on these later). (More: Common Kinds of Personal Injury Claims.)
Why Does This Deadline Matter?
It’s critical that you be aware of North Dakota's six-year deadline as it applies to your potential personal injury lawsuit. With rare exceptions (discussed below), if you miss the deadline, you will no longer have the right to sue the at-fault party and ask the court to award you damages for your injuries and other losses, no matter how badly you were hurt or how egregious the at-fault party's conduct.
Even if there’s a strong possibility that your case will settle outside of court (which is very common with personal injury claims) the threat of a looming lawsuit can be very useful in settlement negotiations. But if you’ve missed the statute of limitations deadline, and the other side knows it, you will have lost all of your bargaining power.
Exceptions to the Standard North Dakota Statute of Limitations
In certain situations, the North Dakota personal injury statute of limitations "clock" won't start running on the date of the underlying accident or incident, or the circumstances might pause the running of the clock after it has already started, effectively extending the filing deadline.
For example, special rules usually apply if the injured person is under the age of 18 or is considered "insane" at the time of the injury. Plaintiffs in these circumstances are considered to be subject to a "legal disability" in the eyes of the law in North Dakota. And in these situations, once the period of disability ends -- meaning the potential plaintiff turns 18 or is declared sane -- he or she will have one year to get a personal injury lawsuit filed over the accident. (Note that the deadline won't be extended more than five years for a "mentally ill" plaintiff.) This rule can be found at North Dakota Century Code section 28-01-25.
Also, if the person responsible for the plaintiff's injuries (the defendant) departs from and resides outside of the state of North Dakota continuously for one year or more at some point after the underlying accident, but before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of absence probably won't be counted as part of the six-year filing period (the "clock" won't run during this time, in other words). (North Dakota Century Code section 28-01-32.)
And finally, if the person who is liable for the plaintiff's injury takes steps to fraudulently conceal his or her role in harming the plaintiff, once the fraud is discovered -- or should have been discovered through "the exercise of diligence" -- the injured person has one year to get the lawsuit filed in court. But remember that the plaintiff has the burden of establishing that the fraud or concealment occurred "by a preponderance of the evidence" before an extension on these grounds will be allowed. (North Dakota Century Code section 28-01-24.)
These are just a few examples. If you have specific questions about how the North Dakota personal injury statute of limitations applies to your case -- especially if the filing deadline has already passed or is right around the corner -- you may want to discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury attorney. Learn more about finding and working with the right personal injury lawyer.