When you suffer an injury, the thing you are probably most concerned with is your recovery. From there, you may start to worry about paying your medical bills, returning to work, or regaining full mobility and maintaining the quality of life that you were accustomed to prior to your accident.
Many weeks or months may go by before the idea of filing a lawsuit even passes your mind. At that point, you may be wondering, “Is it too late?”
In Virginia, the state does impose a statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits. This is why acting quickly after an injury is essential.
Here, we discuss the statute of limitations in Virginia, including its purpose, how long you have to file a personal injury claim in our state and exceptions to this rule.
We also review the many steps that go into filing a personal injury claim, which underscores the importance of getting help from an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a time limit that the state imposes on the duration of time that can pass before a person is barred from filing a civil action.
Each state is responsible for setting its own statutes of limitation. Many states have different limitations for different types of civil actions. For instance, a personal injury statute of limitations may be different from a wrongful death or medical malpractice statute of limitations.
Once a statute of limitations has expired, a claimant is barred from seeking damages and no longer has the right to file a lawsuit.
Statutes of limitations exist to protect defendants. They are often beneficial for plaintiffs, too. The logic behind the existence of a statute of limitations is that, after too much time has passed, evidence vital to a defendant’s defense of themselves (as well as evidence vital to a plaintiff’s case) may be destroyed. Thus, justice would no longer be served if a long period of time has passed.
For this reason, a plaintiff should display reasonable diligence in bringing forth a suit if the plaintiff has a valid cause of action.
The statute of limitations in Virginia, as it pertains to personal injury claims, is two years. The clock on the two-year time limit begins ticking from the date of the cause of action. This is found in Virginia Code § 8.01-243.
Possible Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations
In some cases, the date when a cause of action arises is obvious. For example, consider a personal injury claim following a car accident: At the moment of the collision between the two vehicles, the victim suffers an injury. Clearly, the date of the cause of action in this case is the date of the car accident.
Sometimes, however, an injury is not discovered immediately. The statute of limitations may not seem fair. For example, if a person is exposed to asbestos fibers but does not develop mesothelioma for 10 years after the date of that exposure, a two-year statute of limitations would hardly seem just.
In the event that the date of discovery, or the date that the injury was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered, is different from the date of the cause of action, exceptions to the strict two-year limit may apply.
Consider the rules set forth in Virginia Code § 8.01-249:
In personal injury actions resulting from the exposure to asbestos or asbestos fibers, the statute of limitations is two years from the date that the asbestos-related injury or disease is first communicated to the victim by a medical care provider. However, no action can be brought more than two years after the date of death of the person.
In personal injury actions involving product liability, when the claim is against a party other than a healthcare provider and involves the implantation of any medical device, the statute of limitations is extended to two years’ time from the date that the person knows or should have known of the injury.
In personal injury actions that were committed against the plaintiff in infancy or disability, the statute of limitations is extended to two years from the date of the ending of the infancy or disability, or two years from the date of which the injury is communicated to the patient by a healthcare professional.
If you have questions about a statute of limitations and how it pertains to your case, it is within your best interest to consult with an attorney.
Why It is Important to Start Early When Pursuing a Personal Injury Claim
Filing a personal injury claim can be a complicated process.
First, you must file a complaint and summons in the proper court and serve copies on the defendant. Your complaint must explain why you are filing a lawsuit against the defendant as well as what damages you are seeking.
Of course, even filing a complaint is a process in itself. You must be sure that you are filing the lawsuit against the appropriate party and that all potentially liable parties are named in the complaint.
While you await the defendant’s response, it is important to make sure all evidence is gathered and organized, including police reports, witness statements, repair or service logs, manufacturing data, design data, experts’ opinions, photographs, medical records and more.
Once the defendant has filed its answer to a complaint, the discovery phase begins. During discovery, you can use the law to help you to gather evidence to support your case, including seeking court orders that compel the defendant to turn over relevant evidence.
If you do not begin the process of gathering evidence and organizing your claim early enough, you may be limited in your options as you move forward.
For these reasons, working with an attorney is important.
You should contact the law offices of Marks & Harrison as soon as you are able to do so following your injury. Our experienced Virginia personal injury attorneys can begin work on your case immediately. There is no fee to meet with us. Pick up the phone and get started today.