A statute of limitations is a law establishing a deadline for when civil claims must be filed. The length of time allowed varies by state as well as by the cause of the injury suffered.
By limiting the time in which a lawsuit can be filed, the law invites speedy resolution and prompt relief for the injured. On a practical level, cases may become more difficult to resolve as time passes because memories fade and evidence can become harder to produce. Requiring a party to sue within a reasonable amount of time encourages more streamlined litigation. In South Carolina, the general deadlines for filing personal injury claims are:
- Three years after the injury.
- Two years after the injury if a government entity is the defendant.
Failure to file a lawsuit within the required time limit may prevent recovery for the injury.
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When does the statute of limitations start to run?
Calculating the starting point for the statute of limitations depends on the type of injury suffered. In South Carolina, the moment at which the statute of limitations for personal injuries commences is usually governed by the discovery rule.
Under the discovery rule, the starting point is when a victim either knew or should have known that an injury occurred.
In large part, injuries become apparent immediately upon the occurrence of an accident. For example, when a victim is involved in car wreck, suffers a dog bite, or slips and falls, the date the victim knew about his injury is almost always the same day as that accident.
However, certain injuries, such as long-term side effects from medications or toxins, may not become apparent to the victim for some time after the use of the drug or exposure to the chemical. In those instances, determining the point in time when a victim should have realized they had an injury will generally be determined by a court—which means a court could potentially find a case time-bared by concluding a victim should have realized his injury earlier. It is therefore essential to file a claim as soon as possible after discovering it.
Are there exceptions to the discovery rule?
In lawsuits alleging medical malpractice as the cause of the injury, the discovery rule is subject to certain limits:
- A victim is precluded from proceeding on a claim made more than six years after the occurrence which caused the injury, regardless of when the injury was discovered.
- Where the allegation of medical malpractice is based on injuries sustained from the placement of a foreign object, the claim must be brought within two years of the date of discovery, provided this time limit is not less than three years for non-government entities.
Can the statute of limitations ever be extended?
Although the statute of limitations, like many rules, bends to certain exceptions, those instances are limited. South Carolina relaxes this three-year bar for certain individuals based on their unique vulnerability.
- If the victim is a minor when the injury occurs, they have an additional year after their eighteenth birthday in which to file his claim. However, where the claim is based on an allegation of medical malpractice, this extension on the time to file will be no more than seven years.
- If the victim is mentally incapacitated when they are injured, the time to file suit is extended up to five years from the date of injury, except where the claim alleges medical malpractice, in which case the general three-year statute of limitations applies.
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What if a person dies of the injury he suffered?
When another party’s negligence causes an injury that ultimately leads to the victim’s death, the victim’s estate (typically brought through someone appointed to do that and other things by a probate court) may bring claims alleging wrongful death. In some instances, the estate may also seek damages for injuries the victim suffered prior to death such as fear, physical pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress. This is known as a survival action. Because those claims look to the death as the relevant injury, the statute of limitations can begin at the death of the victim, not the initial harm or accident.