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What’s the Statute of Limitations… and How Does It Affect My Personal Injury Case?

What’s the Statute of Limitations… and How Does It Affect My Personal Injury Case?

If you’ve ever watched a TV courtroom drama, you’re probably familiar with common, legal jargon such as “beyond a reasonable doubt,” or “innocent until proven guilty.” These phrases which form the foundation of our entire legal system are designed under the premise of protecting citizens from unfair prosecution, regardless of the crime they’ve been accused of (although we unfortunately know that this is not always the case). 

Another legal concept which works to protect citizens’ rights is known as the Statute of Limitations – a defined period of time (usually one or more years) after which a defendant in a criminal or civil lawsuit is entitled to have the case dismissed due to how long ago the alleged crime happened. Statutes of limitations only apply to the initiation of a lawsuit — as long as the complaining party has filed their lawsuit within the appropriate time frame, the case can continue until well after the limitations period has expired. Perhaps most easily conceptualized as an “expiration date” of sorts, this legal concept actually dates back to ancient Roman times yet continues to be highly relevant in the contemporary American justice system.

The passage of time can make human memories less clear, can result in the death or physical absence of witnesses, and can also affect the condition of evidentiary materials. Because of this, the Statute of Limitations is intended to confirm an alleged criminal’s guilt can be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a timely manner, so that all American citizens are fairly and uniformly treated by the courts as “innocent until proven guilty.”

So, What’s the Statute of Limitations in Michigan?

 
Short answer: it depends on the crime. For the most serious crimes (think murder or terrorism) there is no statute of limitations. This permits the usage of evidence like DNA samples (which were unavailable to prosecutors until the mid-1980s) to find criminals who have evaded law enforcement for decades. Dozens of cold cases have been solved in recent years using DNA evidence on evidence collected decades ago, including the 1997 murder of an 88-year-old woman from Genesee County, the 1985 rape/murder of a Florida teen by a man who’s now serving time in a Michigan prison, and the 1988 rape/murder of a Battle Creek mother of three.

For other crimes, the Michigan statute of limitations varies

  • One year for libel and slander.
  • Two years for assault, false imprisonment, and malpractice, among other crimes.
  • Three years for personal injuries, product liability, or wrongful death.
  • Five years for assault on a spouse or someone with whom the criminal had been in a dating relationship.

In our practice at Mike Morse Law Firm, which deals largely with personal injury claims, the three-year statute of limitations on injuries can be interpreted as either three years from the date of the accident, or, in some cases, three years after the date the injury was first detected (symptoms can manifest weeks or months following the accident). These types of cases can include slip-and-fall incidents, dog bites, and numerous others

Motor vehicle accidents in Michigan are subject to the same three-year limitations period for negligence claims against the at-fault driver. However, claims for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits against your insurer (which covers medical care, wage loss, attendant care, etc. regardless of who was at-fault) are subject to the “one year back rule.” The one year back rule isn’t technically a statute of limitations, although it acts like one in many cases. Basically, the one year back rule prohibits filing a lawsuit against your insurer or the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan (MACP) more than a year after a car accident — unless they had previous written notice of your claim. Additionally, even in situations where you have given the PIP insurer written notice, any unpaid bills that were acquired more than a year before the lawsuit was filed are also excluded by the one year back rule. While there are more complexities to the one year back rule (especially if MACP is involved), the general concept is you need to provide written notice within a year after the accident and file suit within a year after the first unpaid bill.

Considering the Statute of Limitations, How Quickly Should I File a Lawsuit?

 
Another old adage applies here: The sooner, the better! The longer you wait to file a lawsuit, the more likely key evidence or important witnesses will become unavailable, get damaged, or be lost in the sands of time. As you approach the end of the statute of limitations, it can become more challenging to gather the necessary materials to make your case, making it difficult to prove damages and make solid claims against the person or institution who caused you harm.

There’s another vital reason to act quickly. In general, you won’t be permitted to file a successful lawsuit after the statute of limitations has expired. If you attempt to do this, the judge will likely throw the case out and you’ll be left with no further recourse. However, there are some exceptions. For example, if you were a minor when injured in a car accident, an abbreviated one-year statute of limitations doesn’t begin until you turn 18. It’s also important to note that the statute of limitations for personal injury claims varies widely by state, ranging from just a year in some jurisdictions to up to six years in others. Michigan’s three-year statute of limitations on personal injury cases falls in the middle of the pack.

What’s the Best Way to Begin Filing My Case?

 
A good personal injury law firm (like ours!) knows all the nuances of filing deadlines and legal procedures. And we stand ready to run with your case as soon as you get in touch with us. We’re available 24/7 online, and can also be reached by phone at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946). Remember that you pay nothing until we win your case… so don’t hesitate to contact us! As you now know, waiting until you’re close to the end of the statute of limitations can hand the person who injured you a virtual “get-out-of-jail-free” card! And when you’re hurting, we’re sure that’s the last thing you’d want to do.