Statutes of Limitations

Different types of lawsuits are subject to different statutes of limitation.  For example, in Pennsylvania a case for libel or slander, sometimes called “defamation”, must be brought within one year following the defamatory conduct.  This is a relatively short statute of limitation.  Most personal injury cases are subject to a two year statute of limitation.  Cases involving injuries arising out of a car accident, slip and fall, medical malpractice and damages caused to personal or real property generally must be brought within two years following the event causing the damage.

Lawsuits for breach of contract, whether the contract is an oral contract or a written contract, in most cases are subject to a four year limitation period.  If you have a claim for a breach of contract, you must bring suit within four years following the date of the breach.

In limited circumstances, the running of a statute of limitation will not begin until you have had a chance to discover that you have been injured.  The famous medical malpractice example of the surgeon leaving a sponge in the patient comes to mind – how would the patient know on the date the mistake was first made?

These are general rules provided to assist you in understanding the importance of prompt action in every case.  Statutes of limitation are designed to encourage prompt resolution of disputes.  Witnesses and evidence are more readily available sooner rather than later.  Claimants who wait too long risk losing their rights entirely.

We recently heard about a case where a purchaser made a layaway deposit with a merchant nearly ten years ago.  When the merchant was approached with the claim for a refund, no record of the layaway deposit could be located.  The claim for the layaway deposit was beyond the statute of limitations, and it is not surprising that the merchant could not find his records of the transaction.  Had the claim for the layaway been brought within the applicable limitation period, those records would probably still be available.

Here is a list of common limitation periods in Pennsylvania:

Claim                                                                                Limitation Period

Libel, Slander, Invasion of Privacy                                      1 Year

Claim on Payment or Performance Bond                            1 Year

Personal Injury or Damage to Property                               2 Years

Trespass                                                                            2 Years

Fraud, Deceit, Negligent or Intentional
Tortious Conduct                                                               2 Years

Most Contract Actions                                                       4 Years

Revival of Judgment Lien on Realty                                     5 Years

Actions for Specific Performance of
Realty Contract                                                                  5 Years

Challenges to Condemnation/Eminent Domain                     6 Years

The moral of the story is clear:  If you have a claim, or if you think you have a claim, take prompt action to protect your rights.  Call your attorney and find out sooner rather than later whether you have a good claim.

— Kevin Palmer


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