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. In South Carolina, the general deadlines for filing personal injury lawsuits 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.
Why the Statute of Limitations Exists
By limiting the time in which a lawsuit can be filed, the law invites speedy resolution and prompt relief for the injured. Meanwhile, for the accused, a legal deadline provides protection against the threat of indefinite lawsuits. Individuals who are at risk of being sued can have peace of mind that a legal battle won’t be looming in their future after a certain point.
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.
As an extension of that, streamlined litigation also means less expensive litigation. The cost of litigating a claim increases for all parties as time goes on. It is more costly to track down former witnesses, hunt for old evidence, and recover faint memories.
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.
A court could potentially find a case time-barred by concluding a victim should have realized their injury earlier. It is therefore essential to file a claim as soon as possible after discovering it.
Navigating the Discovery Rule in South Carolina Injury Cases
The language in the South Carolina statute of limitations is very specific to differentiate between when your injuries are discovered and when they should have been discovered. That is no accident. In large part, injuries become apparent immediately upon the occurrence of an accident. For example, when a victim is involved in a car wreck, suffers a dog bite, or slips and falls, the date the victim knew about their 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. In this example, it may take hours or days after the use of the drug or exposure to the chemical to fully realize the injuries incurred.
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. The court will consider evidence such as medical records to pinpoint when an injury would likely have been discovered.
An Example of When the Discovery Rule Would Apply
A car accident may have occurred but you did not know you had internal injuries at the time. Days later, you may have begun feeling the effects of these injuries from the accident. For example, you might have felt a persistent pain in your abdomen, but you did not seek medical attention until the pain became debilitating and you couldn’t get out of bed a week later. The doctor has diagnosed you with internal bleeding. Now, your injuries have officially been discovered.
So when does the statute of limitations start in this case? Since the pain in your abdomen was apparent a week before your doctor discovered the injury, it can be concluded that you actually should have discovered the injury then. In this case, the statute of limitations may have begun a week before you received a diagnosis.
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.
When to Contact a Personal Injury Law Firm
Our Columbia personal injury lawyer recommends you seek legal assistance as soon as possible after the accident. For instance, if you suffered a slip and fall injury that required a quick medical check-up, contact an attorney the same day.
On the other hand, if you had to spend a few days in the hospital after a car accident, go see a personal injury lawyer once you are discharged, armed with your full medical records and a detailed recounting of the incident. In some cases, the law allows some leeway to the statute of limitations, but you should go over all the details with your attorney.
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. Examples include”
- If the victim is a minor when the injury occurs, they have an additional year after their eighteenth birthday in which to file their 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.
What If a Person Dies of the Injury They 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.
If You Miss the Filing Deadline
Missing the deadline and allowing the statute of limitations to expire can invalidate your right to seek compensation in court. If you decide to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has run out and an extension was not given, the defending party could file a motion to have your case dismissed. If the court finds no legally valid reasons to allow your case to move forward, it will rule in the defendant’s favor.
You can file a lawsuit with the court as long as the statute of limitations is not over. Still, it is always in your best interest to initiate your personal injury case as soon as possible. If you wait and allow the clock to run down, you run the risk of not being adequately prepared.
There Is Little Risk to Seeking Legal Help Right Away
Rather than allowing the statute of limitations to run down and risking your right to seek compensation, consider hiring a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Our firm offers free consultations and operates on contingency, so you don’t have to worry about affording legal representation.*
Once you have an attorney on your side, they will identify the exact filing deadline in your case and any extensions that may apply. Then, your legal team can use the time available to build the strongest case possible.