Injury Victims often must act quickly to get compensation
Many people who are injured don’t talk to a lawyer right away about obtaining compensation. Sometimes they’re not sure how badly they’re hurt, or what the long-term consequences of their injury will be. Sometimes they believe (mistakenly) that they can’t be recompensated for their medical bills, lost wages or pain and suffering. Sometimes they’re just scared of the legal system, or so busy dealing with the injury itself that they put off pursuing their rights.
But that’s a problem, because the law often gives people only a short time in which to act. People who wait to talk to a lawyer risk not being able to receive the compensation to which they’re entitled.
If you or someone you know has been injured, it’s always best to speak with a lawyer right away…even if you’re not sure how serious the injury is, or whether someone else was at fault.
Lawsuits are subject to a “statute of limitations” – a period of time in which a suit must be filed, after which you lose all your rights.
Time limits for lawsuits exist so that people don’t have to worry about being sued over things that happened in the distant past, after evidence has disappeared and witnesses have moved away or forgotten the details.
But the problem for injury victims is that in most cases, the time limit for them is very short – often only a few years. The limit is usually much shorter for injury cases than it is for lawsuits over a broken contract or a real estate deal gone bad.
Keep in mind that a lawsuit has to be filed within the brief window – which means not only that an injury victim has to talk with a lawyer, but that the lawyer has to investigate the case, interview witnesses, research the factual and legal issues, determine everyone who may be legally at fault, etc., before the suit can be filed.
Certain types of injury lawsuits have even shorter deadlines. This is often the case with lawsuits for medical malpractice, lawsuits for libel or slander, lawsuits against a local government – such as for a slip-and-fall on city property, or an accident resulting from poor road maintenance – or a lawsuit for job discrimination.
On the other hand, the time limit for injuries to children often doesn’t begin to run until the child turns 18 or 21. So if you know of a young person who was injured as a child, you might want to speak with a lawyer even if the accident occurred many years ago.
Usually, the time limit for filing a lawsuit begins to run at the time the injury occurs. It’s usually obvious when that is, but not always, which is another good reason to speak with an attorney as soon as possible.
For instance, a doctor in Oklahoma claimed she developed multiple sclerosis as a result of problems with a series of Hepatitis-B vaccinations. In her particular case, the statute of limitations was three years. But a court determined that the three-year clock started ticking as soon as the doctor had her first “medically recognized symptom” of the disease. Because the doctor waited until the disease had progressed before she looked into seeking compensation, she missed the deadline and wasn’t able to recover anything for her harm.
On the other hand, sometimes people are allowed to sue even though an injury occurred a long time ago. There is often a rule that says the time limit doesn’t start running until an injury victim knows who is responsible for the harm, or at least until the victim should have been able to figure out who was responsible.
For instance, a woman in Illinois had shoulder surgery in 2001, and afterward she suffered severe pain and loss of motion. At first she thought it was her surgeon’s fault. It wasn’t until 2008 that experts determined the problem was caused by a defect in a pain pump that was installed in her shoulder during the surgery.
The woman then sued the manufacturer of the pump. Although the suit was brought many years after the injury, a court said it was okay because the woman couldn’t have reasonably determined who was responsible for the harm until seven years after she was injured.