Time may not be your friend: Consult an attorney before time runs out on your case

2:09 PM, Oct 18, 2019

If you believe you were wronged in some way and are considering filing a lawsuit, an important piece of the puzzle is getting familiar with your state’s statute of limitations. These are deadlines established by the legislature for when a person must file a lawsuit. In other words: If you want to file, say, a personal injury lawsuit, there’s a strict time limit for that.

“Statutes of limitations are designed to prevent lawsuits from becoming stale by ensuring that a person who believes they were wronged brings the lawsuit in a timely manner so as to be sure witnesses and evidence will be available for trial,” says Michael McLean, a lawyer at Wall, McLean & Gallagher LLC , a law firm with offices in Helena and Anaconda. They've helped hundreds of people through personal injury cases and have tried cases in state and federal court and have argued cases before the Montana Supreme Court.

Statutes of Limitations in Montana

These deadlines differ state by state, and vary depending on the type of claim and can sometimes be very short, such as 180 days for certain claims like wage disputes. Other important Montana deadlines to note: three years for most personal injuries, five years to enforce an oral contract, eight years to enforce a written contract, and 10 years to collect on judgments.

“It is important to note that once the specific deadline has passed it is normally a complete defense for the opposing party, regardless of the merits of the case,” McLean says, “so early consultation with an attorney is very important to be sure to comply with any deadline.”

Occasional Exceptions

There are certain circumstances when a person may be able to file a lawsuit even if the statute of limitations has expired.

For example, a person generally has three years to file a lawsuit asserting negligence in a personal injury case, such as a car accident, and that time starts on the date of the accident. However, if the person injured was a child, then that person’s statute of limitations starts on his or her 18th birthday, because the law protects children during their minor years, McLean explains.

“Another exception to the deadline involves the ‘discovery rule,’” McLean says. “That rule allows for a ‘tolling’ of the statute of limitations until the person knows (or should have known) of the injury. For example, people who suffered asbestos-related injuries may not discover the injuries until years after the fact. The law allows those individuals to bring a claim upon the discovery of their injury, even if it is after the three years for personal injury.”

So while it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with your state’s statutes of limitations, remember that every case has its own nuance. “The safest practice is to consult with an attorney to determine what statute of limitations apply to any potential claim a person may have,” McLean says.

With offices in Helena and Anaconda, the trial lawyers at Wall, McLean & Gallagher LLC have over 60 years of combined legal experience and are passionate about representing hometown Montanans. They specialize in personal injury, car accidents, employment cases, wage claims, real estate disputes, dissolution, estates, and estate planning. For more information, visit them online or call (406) 442-1054.

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