Statue of Limitations

What happens when time expires?

Once the statute of limitations on a case runs out if a party raises it as a defense any further litigation is foreclosed. Most jurisdictions provide that limitations are tolled under certain circumstances.


Tolling will prevent the time for filing suit from running while the condition exists. Examples of such circumstances are if the aggrieved party (plaintiff) is a minor or the defendant has filed a bankruptcy proceeding. In those instances in most jurisdictions the running of limitations is tolled until the circumstance (i.e. the injured party reaches majority in the former or the bankruptcy proceeding is concluded in the latter) no longer exists.

There may be a number of factors which will affect the tolling of a statute of limitations. In many cases the discovery of the harm (as in a medical malpractice claim where the fact or the impact of the doctor’s mistake is not immediately apparent) starts the statute running. In some jurisdictions the action is said to have not accrued until the harm is discovered while in others the action accrues when the malpractice occurs but an action to redress the harm is tolled until the injured party discovers the harm. An action to redress a tort committed against a minor is generally tolled in most cases until the child reaches the age of majority. A ten-year-old who is injured in a car accident might therefore be able to bring suit one two or three years after he turns eighteen.

It may also be inequitable to allow a defendant to use the defense of the running of the limitations period such as the case of an individual in the position of authority over someone else who intimidates the victim into never reporting the wrongdoing or where one is led to believe that the other party has agreed to suspend the limitations period during good faith settlement negotiations or due to a fraudulent misrepresentation.

Generally speaking in the case of private civil matters the limitations period may be shortened or lengthened by agreement of the parties. While such limitations periods generally are issues of law limitations periods known as laches may apply in situations of equity i.e. a judge will not issue an injunction if the party requesting the injunction waited too long to ask for it such periods are not clearly defined and are subject to broad judicial discretion.