Understanding the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Cases in Asheville, NC

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Keep in mind there is only a certain amount of time associated with a personal injury claim in North Carolina in terms of filing a related lawsuit. This is legally referred to as the statute of limitations. It provides a legal limitation on liability so that a risk of a claim cannot last forever. Anyone who has been harmed with a personal injury needs to file their claim within the allowable window beforehand. If a claim is filed afterward, it doesn’t automatically block it, but the failure to file timely does give the defendant in the lawsuit the ability to seek a summary dismissal by the court, voiding the lawsuit entirely.

Unfortunately, because the statute of limitations is technically a procedural aspect of a trial, most people don’t know about it when initially harmed. As a result, if the injured party doesn’t have a qualified attorney representing him or her, the date could be missed, compromising an otherwise valid personal injury claim before it even has a chance to be heard in trial on the merits of a judge or jury. It can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the law, and disappointment is oftentimes learned the hard way when inadequate representation is relied upon in a lawsuit.

Civil litigation expertise is essential for lawsuit success. A typical trial is more than just the merits or the substantive argument of the case. It’s both procedural as well as substantive. The procedural aspect involves following the rules of the court, which can vary from one court district to another and also involves specific North Carolina state features as well. Procedural law can’t be ignored; mistakes ranging from filing the wrong forms to technical hearings on what evidence is allowed to be introduced in court are all part of procedural law. And that has to be successfully addressed when seeking legal justice. And one of the most powerful aspects remains the statute of limitations requirement for timely filing of a lawsuit.

On the substantive side, the law is associated with the actual liability aspects. This is the law the average person is most familiar with. Negligence, for example, and how it is proven is considered substantive law. This is the argument that gets made in a trial to a jury to convince them that a party is accountable to a plaintiff. It’s the fundamental bread and butter of a lawsuit, and without a good argument, a case can be dismissed or lost in a trial decision. The statute of limitations doesn’t affect substantive law but, again, if the requirement is not met, a party may never get a chance to make their substantive argument in trial in the first place. No surprise, having an attorney who understands these elements and how to protect his or her client from these avoidable risks is very important.  

If I haven’t heard from an insurance company before the statute of limitations is going to expire, should I still wait?

Generally, unless different in specific exceptions, a plaintiff has three years from the date of the injury to file a related personal injury lawsuit. Because insurance companies tend to be the party most likely to be the defendant, it is to their benefit to get an injured party to wait too long, especially if it means that the statute of limitations will be passed. This then gives the insurance provider one of the strongest legal defenses it could have in court if a lawsuit is filed afterward. Instead, a plaintiff is better off filing the lawsuit well before, even if the case will be ultimately negotiated with the insurance company. It gives the plaintiff a much stronger position in negotiation and, ultimately, trial if needed, and it avoids giving the insurance company the ability to argue a procedural outright dismissal of the related case.

Note, however, the type of personal injury case doesn’t change the statute of limitations requirement in most cases. Unless North Carolina has a specific exception, the three-year requirement from the time of injury still stands in place, regardless of whether the injury is from a dog bite, car accident, or slip and fall.

One particular exception involves minors. To the extent a personal injury occurs when a person is under the age of 18, the statute of limitations clock can be paused until such time as the plaintiff turns age 18. Then, the three-year deadline starts running until it expires, essentially when the person turns age 21.

The other exception involves medical procedures where the plaintiff does not know an injury has occurred. This can happen where the injury is not known until years later. Generally, a plaintiff has one year from discovery and no later than three years. Alternatively, if the injury involves a foreign object left inside a patient, the lawsuit needs to be filed within a year of discovery, but it can be no more than a decade after the event occurred, discovered or not.

The above said, an exception is also not a sure thing to depend on. The court can easily overrule an exception when the matter is challenged in a procedural motion in court. Again, the best position when possible is to file a lawsuit well within the statute of limitations deadline period and not give room for a challenge in the first place.

Mr. Denton is also extremely versed in procedural law, which means problems like missing a statute of limitations deadline simply doesn’t occur in the cases he handles. Every detail is examined, and every local court rule is validated and checked for the success of a given case filed. That kind of expertise doesn’t automatically happen, regardless of legal education. Instead, it comes from practice and training in practical applications.

There is no risk of delay, deadlines missed, or last-minute filing occurring. Instead, Mr. Denton’s approach is about providing his client with the strongest legal position possible for a viable, effective litigation position for a personal injury claim. And that’s the kind of representation people want to have in North Carolina courts when recovering from a preventable injury.

Lakota Denton

Lakota Denton is an Asheville, NC attorney who focuses on recovering for injured people. Lakota has been practicing law in Asheville, N.C. since 2011.

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