Statute Of Limitations

What does “Statute Of Limitations” mean in legal terms? Can it be extended? Why is the Statute Of Limitations necessary in a legal system? Let’s read through and find out!

What Is Statute Of Limitations?

Statue of Limitations refers to a rule of law wherein a person, group, or entity must bring forward their claim or action on a lawsuit within a particular time frame. It is applicable to both civil and criminal lawsuits. Once the statute of limitations time period elapses, the plaintiff can’t file the lawsuit, and it’s said to be time-barred.

Why do Statutes of Limitations exist?

It protects would-be defendants from unfair claims brought years after the incident, as evidence can be destroyed, hard to investigate, or nonexistent due to time. For instance, the limitation period for personal injury claims is two years in Texas.

However, it must be noted that although rare, there are certain circumstances a judge may extend the statute of limitations, for instance, if the plaintiff was a minor or not of sound mind at the time of the incident.

Statute of Limitations legal glossary term

How Does Statute Of Limitations Work?

The statute of limitations establishes a time frame within which any individual or entity under legal liability in the US must file a claim or action. Once the period elapses, a claim can no longer be filed. Defendants can argue the time the plaintiff had to bring the lawsuit against them as grounds for a judge to dismiss a lawsuit.

If the defense can successfully argue that the plaintiff filed the claim after a statute of limitations period, the case is deemed time-barred and will be dismissed unless an exception is made.

The statute of limitations helps to give the defendant a fair chance to defend themselves from being prosecuted in a civil or criminal suit.

When it can be proven that the statute of limitations was blown at the time of the original verdict, a judge or panel of judges can reverse it. In a criminal suit that involves jail time, the sentenced and incarcerated criminal can immediately go free.

Once the claim is brought, the plaintiff with a valid claim does not have to worry about delays and being subject to the statutes of limitations.

This means after a claim is filed, the litigation time frame begins and can progress as usual, which allows for both the plaintiff and defendant to collect evidence to prove their innocence.

Without a statute of limitations, the evidence can cease to exist or be too weak to help with the defendant’s arguing successfully against a claim.

Can The Statute Of Limitations Be Extended?

Yes, a statute of limitations can be tolled or extended in special circumstances. Some reasons why the statute of limitations can be extended include the following:

  • A Minor: If the plaintiff is under the age of 18, the statute of limitations can be extended until they come of legal age. The time frame begins when they turn 18, and the legal rule becomes applicable.
  • Mental Illness: If the plaintiff is deemed mentally incapacitated, unstable, or not of sound mind, then the statute of limitations can be extended.
  • Fraud: If the defendant has maliciously concealed the claim or cause of action, the statute of limitations can be extended until the plaintiff can perform discovery and potentially litigate it.
  • Military Duty: If the defendant is on active military duty or is in a time of war, in some circumstances, the statute of limitations can be tolled until the hostilities end or they return from military service in a country where the United States does not have the authority to arrest them.

Statute Of Limitations vs Statute Of Repose

Statute Of Limitations and Statute Of Repose are not exactly the same and often need clarification, even though they are often used interchangeably. The underlying intent and principle are similar, although they serve different legal purposes.

How Statute of Limitations and Statute of Repose Are Different:

While the statute of limitations is primarily a time limit for the plaintiff to discover the cause of action and file a claim, the statute of repose is in place to limit the liabilities of the defendant against a lawsuit.

Statute of repose is primarily seen in product liability claims against manufacturers and administrating one’s estate.

Once the statute of repose time frame passes, the defendant is no longer liable for any lawsuit claims for defective products, design, or construction.

In the case of estate claims, the statute of repose gives a time frame within which plaintiffs must contest the will of the deceased or claim the deceased’s estates.

On the other hand, the statute of limitations is prevalent in a wide range of criminal and civil lawsuits. While the statute of limitations can be extended or tolled in exceptional circumstances, a statute of repose has much stricter time limits and is almost never extended.

What Is The Statute Of Limitations For Common Lawsuits?

The statute of limitations vary from one lawsuit to type to another and varies from one state to another. We will use Texas and its statute of limitation period for some of the most common lawsuit types.

  • Personal injury: 2 years.
  • Medical malpractice: 2 years from the incident or 2 years from the date of discovery of the injury. However, not more than 10 years from the incident.
  • Contract breach: 4 years for both oral and written contracts.
  • Property damage: 2 years
  • Rape: The criminal statute of limitations for rape is 10 years, and 5 years for civil suits. There is no statute of limitations for a rape or sexual assault in which the victim was subject to a rape kit to test for DNA evidence, but no test was done.
  • Molestation or indecent assault: 10 years from the date of the offense. If the plaintiff is a minor, then it is tolled till they turn 18.
  • Employment contract breach: For breach of employment contract, the statute of limitation is 4 years from the date of the breach.
  • Wrongful termination: For getting wrongfully fired, the statute of limitations is 180 days.
  • Domestic violence: This can vary based on the degree of severity of the claim, and the statute of limitation period usually begins from the date of offense. For assault, it is 2 years; for aggravated assault 3 years. Continuous violence against family is 10 years.
  • Workers’ compensation claims: The plaintiff must inform their employer of the incident within 30 days. From there on, the plaintiff has one year from the date of the incident.
  • Wrongful death: 2 years from the date of death caused by negligence or an intentional act.
  • Murder and manslaughter: Both murder and manslaughter have no statute of limitations.
  • Debts: For credit card debt, it’s 4 years, and medical debts 2 years, all from the date of the last payment.

Does A Protective Claim Extend The Statute Of Limitations?

Yes, filing a protective claim can extend the statute of limitations for specific claims.

Taxpayer/claimants can file protective refund claims to prevent the statute of limitations from expiring, which preserve their rights to collect a tax refund if the refund is contingent on a future event’s outcome and the amount they should get refunded by the government is not able to be calculated yet.

It is advisable to contact a trusted, experienced tax professional(a CPA or tax attorney) to help you with a protective refund claim, as it is a specialized field of law and varies significantly from case to case.

What Crimes Have No Statute Of Limitations?

In the United States, certain grave crimes have no limitation period. Some of these include:

  1. Murder
  2. War crimes
  3. Genocide
  4. Treason
  5. Crimes against humanity

What Is The Statute Of Limitations On Tax Debt?

The IRS statute of limitations for tax debt is ten years from the tax liability assessment date. This can be extended in certain circumstances, for instance, if you file for bankruptcy.


Written by Aaron R. Winston
Last Updated: June 20, 2023 8:44am CDT