Apart from a jail cell or a hospital operating table, the last place anyone would choose to be is in a court of law. But when you are the victim of a legal injury at the hand of another, whether by design or by negligence on their part, then there is comfort in knowing that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts provides the means, called a civil lawsuit, by which you may pursue and receive justice. Unfortunately, most of us do not know what the statute of limitations in a civil suit really means.
Massachusetts Statute of Limitations in a Civil Suit
The statute of limitations in a civil suit refers to the amount of time that you have to file a claim for damages, regardless of whether the claim is for a personal injury or a breach of contract. The clock starts ticking from the date when the legal injury occurred. Once your time expires, you are time-barred from filing the lawsuit.
The reason statutes of limitations in civil suits exist is to maintain the integrity of the evidence and the testimony of witnesses. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, most lawsuits have a civil statute of limitations of three years. This applies to fraud, libel/slander, injury to property, trespass, and rent collection.
Exceptions to this general rule are personal injury, professional malpractice, certain contracts, debt collection, and judgements. These are discussed in turn below.
Typically, in Massachusetts, the civil statute of limitations to seek compensation for medical expenses, loss of earnings, and pain and suffering is three years.
However, if you or your loved one were injured in a hit and run accident, you have six months from the time you learn the driver’s name in which to file a lawsuit claim. This may sound backwards, but sometimes you might not learn the name of the driver until more than three years have elapsed from the date you were injured.
For professional malpractice, the civil lawsuit time limit is three years, except for medical malpractice, for which it is seven years, apart from foreign objects in the body, in which case the clock starts when the plaintiff discovers, or should have discovered, the presence of the foreign object.
The seven-year statute of limitations in a civil suit applies when an item, such as a surgical sponge, is left accidentally inside a patient during an operation. It also applies to devices that are implanted for a purpose and with your consent, such as artificial knee, hips, and shoulders, pacemakers, surgical mesh, defective metal screws, etc.
An essential element of most contracts is something called consideration. This is a benefit that is negotiated between the two parties to a contract and is the reason why contracts are drawn up to begin with. Usually, one consideration, such as money, is given in exchange for another consideration, which may be time, property, etc. The civil statute of limitations in Massachusetts for breach of contract in most cases is six years.
Some contracts, however, are signed under seal. This means there is no consideration, and that the contract bears the seal of the signer. For a breach of contract under a seal, the civil lawsuit time limit is 20 years.
The statute of limitations for credit card debt in Massachusetts is six years and is measured from the date that the consumer defaults on their payments.
A judgement is a final court order that shows the amount of cash owed by one party to another. Judgements in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are enforceable for 20 years but may be renewed for another 20 years if the amount remains outstanding and you inform the court.
Complicated, isn’t it? Do you see why it might be handy to consult a lawyer? Not only should they be able to navigate the tortured minefield that is the statute of limitations, they can also sometimes save the day if a statute of limitations expires before you have a chance to file your claim. Sometimes there are exceptions that might be applied to your benefit, while other times your lawyer might be able to file multiple claims arising from the same injury.