Most people are familiar with the term “statute of limitations.” This is essentially a statutory time limit imposed on your ability to file a claim. The time limit is different depending on the cause of action. For instance, the limitations period for a personal injury claim is 2 years from the date of injury.
What most people don't realize, however, is that there is a similar statutory time limit known as a “statute of repose.” There is often confusion over the difference between them, but the distinction has been made at both the federal and state court level.
The reason this matters is that whether the time limit at issue is found in a statute of limitations or a statute of repose has the potential to determine the outcome of your case.
Statutes of repose
A statute of repose is similar to a statute of limitations. Both statutes impose a time limit in which to file a claim. But the way the time limit is measured and its purpose are slightly different.
Statutes of repose do not measure the time limit from the date of injury, but rather from a specific time period provided for in the statute (i.e., 180 days from giving notice).
Both types of statutes are designed to encourage the timely filing of a claim. But a statute of repose is also designed to be a firm cutoff date. After that point, the defendant should no longer be liable for the underlying claim. This is often reflected in the language of statutes of repose (i.e., “No action may be brought after the 120 day period…”)
Courts that have recognized the distinction have often been very strict with this cutoff date. While statutes of limitations are often subject to tolling, or extending the period in which to file, statutes of repose generally are not. That is because tolling would run contrary to a statute of repose's purpose of cutting off liability after a certain period. A statute of limitations has as its main goal the timely filing of claims. If the plaintiff's failure to timely file was not the plaintiff's fault, extending the time period does not run counter to that purpose.
How can this help me?
The practical effect of this distinction between the two statutes is this: If a plaintiff files suit against you after the statutory time period has expired, and the statute is one of repose, you may be able to defeat the plaintiff's tolling argument quickly and soundly.
This issue may or may not ever come up in your case. However, it is a good example of how critically analyzing all aspects of a case can lead to success in the courts.
Helix Law Firm can help with civil litigation
If you're involved in litigation (such as real estate, personal injury, probate, etc.), Helix Law Firm can help. We will consider multiple angles to your case to give you the best chance to succeed.
If you're interested in learning more about how Helix can help, please call us at (619) 567-4447 to schedule a free consultation.