The statute of limitations governs the time period in which a victim of a defective consumer product can bring a legal claim for compensation. This deadline varies from state to state, and it may be different for products liability claims than for ordinary personal injury claims. The usual range extends from one year to four years, and the limit is often two years. Very few exceptions apply to the statute of limitations, and failing to comply with this rule means that even a substantively strong case probably will not be heard. Thus, a victim should determine the deadline and probably should file their case as soon as they can. This also will help them gather critical evidence before it decays or disappears.
Sometimes you can work around a statute of limitations that already has expired. A victim may be able to sue the defendant in a different state that has a longer statute of limitations, assuming that the defendant does business in that state or otherwise has an adequate connection to that state.
Determining the Start of the Limitations Period
This can be simple in the case of some easily apparent injuries. If you know right away that an injury has occurred, you have the prescribed number of years from your injury to bring a claim. Unfortunately, not every injury is obvious at the outset. Certain conditions may take years to develop, and a victim may not know that the defendant’s product caused their injuries until they investigate the situation further.
In some states, the statute of limitations for products liability cases does not begin running until the plaintiff discovers or should have discovered the injury.
Some states do not permit any flexibility in the application of the statute of limitations. If a victim does not discover their injury until after the statute expires, they may have no recourse. Recognizing the potentially unfair results, other states mitigate the statute of limitations with a discovery rule. This means that the limitations period does not start running until the date when the victim discovers or should discover the injury, instead of the date when the injury occurred. It is important to be aware that the discovery rule accounts for when the injury reasonably should have been discovered. If you do not actually discover the injury for a long time, this does not necessarily mean that the limitations period was paused throughout that time. For example, a patient might be expected to investigate symptoms when they first develop, rather than waiting to see whether they resolve independently.
Defendants frequently raise the statutes of limitations defense because it allows them to get rid of a case relatively efficiently. To trigger the limitations period, a manufacturer may send a notice to people who are using a product to generally inform them that it may be defective. This notice is not always explicit and may not refer to a specific defect. You should be aware that a general offer to replace or repair a product may count as sufficient notice to start the limitations period.
Statutes of Repose
States may impose additional timing rules beyond statutes of limitations, which are known as statutes of repose. These can create an absolute limit that extends from the date when a product was sold. The limit is usually much longer than the limit provided by the statute of limitations, but it can end up being shorter if the discovery rule extends the statute of limitations. Even if the discovery rule applies, and the extended statute of limitations has not yet expired, a victim will not be able to bring a claim if it falls outside the statute of repose. Like statutes of limitations, statutes of repose vary from state to state. Unlike statutes of limitations, they do not apply in every state.
Statutes of Limitations vs. Statutes of Repose
Statute of limitations = a law limiting the period of time in which a products liability claim may be pursued after the plaintiff has been injured (or should have discovered their injury) Statute of repose = a law limiting the period of time in which a products liability claim may be pursued after the product was sold, whether or not the plaintiff has yet been injured