If you are wronged, how long do you have before you must sue or forever lose your right to do so? This is a very important question that non-lawyers don’t often think about.
This time limitation is called a “statute of limitations.” In Pennsylvania, the time limitation varies depending on the type of case involved. The statute of limitations for breach of contract is normally four years. The statute of limitations for “tort” actions, such as personal injury or civil rights actions, is two years. The limitations period for damage to personal property, trespassing, civil assault and battery, and fraud is also two years. Other causes of action, such as defamation, have a shorter one-year limitation period. Yet other types of actions, such as actions under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practice and Consumer Protection Law, have a six-year statute of limitations. Pennsylvania’s statutes of limitation are actual statutes located at 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5501 et seq. and are discussed and interpreted by Pennsylvania courts.
A question that often arises is, when does the statute of limitations period accrue (begin to run)? Ordinarily, the statute of limitations accrues on the date of the breach of the contract (for a contract claim) or on the date of the injury (for tort claims). There are, of course, exceptions to this general rule.
First, if the plaintiff filing the lawsuit is a minor, his or her statute of limitations does not begin to run until he or she reaches the age of 18. Another way that the statute of limitations may be tolled is where there is a clear case of fraud, deception or concealment, for instance, where the plaintiff is misled into believing that the tortious act did not occur or that it had not resulted in injury, or where the defendant lies about his or her identity. Finally, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the plaintiff reasonably should have discovered that he or she has an injury or claim. This equitable doctrine is called the “discovery rule.”
The bottom line is, if you were wronged, time may be running out. Although there are ways to toll the accrual of the statute of limitations, it is a fact-intensive determination that only a lawyer should make. Therefore, if you believe you have been wronged, you should seek out the advice of a lawyer as soon as possible so that your legal rights can be protected.