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States pass laws called statutes of limitations which put a limit on how long after an injury has occurred that a lawsuit may be filed. The idea behind these laws is that it is harder to prove and defend against an older case, because evidence gets lost or deteriorates, and witnesses die or their memory fades. In the interest of justice, personal injury lawsuits and other types of civil litigation come with a built-in expiration date.
The general statute of limitations for a New York personal injury is three years from the date of injury. If you do not file a lawsuit within that time, you can lose your right forever to recover compensation from the negligent defendant. In the case of a wrongful death, surviving family members have only two years from the date of the death in which to file a suit.
Sometimes an injury is latent, meaning that the injury does not immediately occur but takes time to appear. New York law makes a special provision for latent injuries caused by exposure to harmful substances through absorption, contact, ingestion, inhalation, implantation or injection. In these cases, the statute of limitations is three years from the date the injury was discovered or should have been discovered with reasonable care. This distinction is important in cases such as lead poisoning, where a child may ingest small amounts of lead paint over a period of time but not become symptomatic for several months.
In the case of medical malpractice or podiatric malpractice, the law provides a shortened limitations period of two years and six months. This lesser timeframe benefits negligent doctors and works against the injured patient. The statutory period may also be shorter or longer depending upon the circumstances. For instance, if the patient is undergoing a continuing course of treatment, the statute may run from either the date of the malpractice or the date of the last treatment. Where the malpractice involves leaving a foreign object in the body following a surgery or other medical procedure, such as a hemostat, clamp or sponge, the victim has one year from the time the object was discovered or should have been discovered.
Special provisions have also been made over the years for particular types of products liability injuries, such as harm caused by exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam or defective drug litigation based on the transmission of HIV/AIDS from the infusion of infected blood products. An employee with a workers’ compensation claim has up to two years to file a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Board, but only 30 days to notify the employer of the incident. Where the defendant is a public entity, such as in the case of municipal liability or public transit accidents, the injured plaintiff must file a claim with appropriate agency within 90 days of accident. Finally, New York law also provides a brief one-year statute of limitations in the case of some actions brought against certain law enforcement officers. This shortened timeframe may apply to lawsuits based on police liability for excessive force, harassment, or false arrests.
Two or three years may seem like a lot of time, but it can pass very quickly, and it is hard to be vigilant regarding the statute of limitations that whole time. You may be focusing on your own physical recovery, or grieving for your loss. In addition, you may have mounds of paperwork to deal with from various sources while you work towards getting back to work or getting you house back in order and your life back to normal.
An experienced personal injury attorney will not try to settle your case until you have become medically stationary and all your costs are known. However, contacting an attorney as soon as possible will make sure that your case is prepared properly from the start with the best information, and that essential deadlines are not missed. If you have been in an automobile accident, construction accident, or other type of personal injury accident in New York City, contact Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C. right away for a free consultation.