If you are injured in an accident and do not receive damages, filing a personal injury lawsuit is one way to try to get the damages you deserve. But filing a lawsuit is no small task, and takes a lot of resources that you may need time to gather. For this reason, you may not file a lawsuit right away; the question then becomes how long you have to file a lawsuit after you were injured.

Statute of Limitations

Almost all crimes and misdemeanors have a statute of limitations: a period of time after which the court can’t punish someone for committing that specific crime. Limitation statues for personal injury lawsuits vary by state, between one and six years, and knowing how long your state’s statute becomes an important part of filing a lawsuit. Generally, any attempt to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has passed will fail. However, there is one specific exception that applies specifically to personal injuries.

The Rule of Discovery

The “Rule of Discovery” is an exception that allows the plaintiff to file a personal injury lawsuit after the statute of limitations if one or both of the following are true:

  • The plaintiff did not know they were injured until after the statute had passed.
  • The plaintiff did not know that the defendant was directly responsible for their injury.

If one or both of these are true, then most states will restart the statute of limitations beginning on the date that the injured person made this discovery.

Rule of Discovery in Action

This sounds like an extremely specific scenario that has little bearing on the majority of personal injury lawsuits, but cases that are filed as a result of the discovery of injury are common. A common example is often seen on late-night infomercials: mesothelioma as a result of asbestos. This deadly lung cancer develops over decades of exposure; if you were not aware that your basement had asbestos, then you wouldn’t be able to sue the construction company for damages under the statute of limitations since the act that caused your injury (installation of asbestos insulation) would have happened decades earlier. But the rule of discovery would allow you to file a lawsuit anyway since the clock would only start running after you became aware of having this specific type of cancer.