A statute of limitation is a law or rule that requires specific types of claims to be brought in court within a certain time frame, or be forever barred. Some limitation periods are short; others can be longer. Here is a chart showing the applicable limitation period in Pennsylvania for various types of civil claims:
|Claim Against Government Officer
Deficiency Judgment Petition
Action to Set Aside Sheriff Sale
Invasion of Privacy
Action on a Payment or Performance Bond
Civil Assault or Battery
Action on a Contract (oral, written or implied)
Specific Performance of Real Estate Contract
All Other Actions Not Specified
The statute of limitations begins to run generally when a claim arises. So when does a claim arise? Generally, a claim arises when the claimant has enough information to determine that he or she has a claim. For example, in a case involving injuries sustained in a car accident, the statute of limitations will generally begin to run on the day of the car accident. Contrast this outcome with a case involving a claim for medical malpractice involving a surgical sponge left inside the patient. In this case, the statute of limitations would not begin to run until the patient has a reasonable time to “discover” the malpractice. This is known as the “discovery rule”. In general, the statute of limitations begins to run when the claimant, exercising reasonable diligence, should have discovered the injury.
The purpose of a statute of limitations is at least twofold. It is intended to encourage people to bring their claims promptly so that evidence will be preserved, memories will be fresh and justice can be done. The other major purpose of a statute of limitation is to establish finality at some point. Society as a whole does not benefit from the lingering spectre of litigation.
Our advice is to move quickly if you think you have a claim. It is almost impossible for an attorney to protect your rights properly if you walk in with a claim on the last day before the expiration of the statute of limitations. Claims require investigation and preparation before they can be filed in court. Sooner is almost always better than later!
– Kevin Palmer