When you’re the victim in a personal injury case, you may not think of taking legal action right away. You will no doubt be in shock and dealing with the consequences of your injury. However, you don’t want to wait too long — because the statute of limitations may come into play.
Taking action as soon as possible is always the best bet since you don’t want to miss out on compensation that could be owed to you. The statute of limitations for Indiana personal injury claims can be difficult to navigate if you’ve never looked into it before. Let’s break down everything you need to know before you begin your case — and why you should act sooner rather than later.
How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit in Indiana?
Before filing any kind of lawsuit in Indiana, it’s important to understand the statute of limitations. This, simply put, is a legal limit on how much time can pass before you bring your case. If you wait too long, your case could be dismissed before even being heard.
Criminal cases or liability cases all have statutes of limitation. In Indiana, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is just two years.
This means you must file your lawsuit within two years following the injury. Two years and one day after it happened, you won’t be able to have your case heard.
What Are Statutes of Limitations?
Not all kinds of cases have statutes of limitations — for example, there isn’t one for the crime of murder. However, you will find that most lawsuits you could potentially file will have a time limit on them.
This can differ from state to state, as well as being different for different types of crime or suit. That’s why it’s so important to understand the legal limits of the kind of action you want to take.
In general, most federal laws in the US will have a time limit of five years, but there are others that have longer time limits written into their legal language. For personal injury, you may be surprised to see that the limit is actually shorter.
In the law, Indiana code § 34-11-2-4 states that: “(a) An action for: (1) injury to person or character … must be commenced within two (2) years after the cause of action accrues.”
Why Do These Statutes Exist?
Statutes of limitations serve important purposes and are designed to balance the pursuit of justice with practical considerations. While victims of civil or criminal offenses may sometimes feel frustrated by these limitations, understanding their underlying reasons can provide helpful insights.
To Prevent Bringing Up Claims from the Distant Past
One perspective is that it is deemed unjust to bring forth claims against alleged offenders for offenses committed in the distant past. While this limitation is more commonly applied to civil matters than serious criminal offenses, it seeks to strike a balance between serving justice and acknowledging that it is very challenging to investigate things that happened a long time ago.
Imagine if you had made a mistake twenty or thirty years ago, which you believed was settled with the aggrieved party. Would you think it was fair if that person was able to bring a suit now? This kind of loophole could easily be exploited to attack individuals after they had become more wealthy, for example. The law has to defend everyone from injustice, so it’s important not to allow this kind of exploitation.
Potential Loss of Evidence Over Time
Another significant aspect driving the existence of statutes of limitations is the potential loss of relevant evidence over time. As the years pass, evidence can vanish, making it challenging for both the prosecution and the defense to present a compelling case. This can lead to unfair outcomes and undermine the integrity of the legal process.
In particular, the reliability of eyewitness testimony decreases as memories fade. Expecting witnesses to vividly recall detailed events from decades ago is often unrealistic. Without statements or documentation made at the time, relying solely on the recollections of witnesses becomes increasingly unreliable as time goes on.
In the flipside to our earlier argument, imagine you tried to get justice after twenty years — but the lack of evidence and witnesses meant you ended up losing money on your legal team and never getting enough of a case together. That would be inconvenient, to say the least — and emotionally draining. The statute of limitations also safeguards you, the defendant, in this example.
Maintaining Fairness and Safeguarding Rights
By recognizing the rationale behind statutes of limitations, we can appreciate their role in maintaining fairness and safeguarding the rights of all parties involved. While they may present obstacles for victims seeking resolution, they ultimately contribute to upholding the integrity of the legal system and preventing undue harm to potential defendants.
Are There Exceptions to the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations?
There are some specific exceptions that can help you get around the statute of limitations for Indiana personal injury claims. If you fall into one of these categories, you may be in luck even after two years have already passed.
The discovery rule is a key consideration when determining the statute of limitations. It states that the countdown begins from the day you discover or should have discovered your injury. This rule is based on the idea that you cannot file a claim for an injury you were unaware of. It is typically applicable to injuries that are not immediately apparent to an ordinary person. For example, if a factory worker unknowingly develops cancer years later as a result of their working environment, the statute of limitations would start from the date of discovery, not the date of exposure.
In the case of minor victims, the statute of limitations does not begin until they reach the age of 18. This exception recognizes that minors do not have the legal capacity to sue.
Furthermore, the statute of limitations may be affected by the defendant’s continuing conduct. If the negligent conduct is ongoing, the rationale is that the victim can only file a claim once they fully understand the extent of their injury, which can only be determined once the negligent conduct ceases. For example, if the personal injury arose from negligence over the course of a six-month treatment, the statute of limitations would start at the end of the six months rather than the beginning of the negligence.
In exceptional circumstances, courts can issue emergency orders to suspend or extend statutes of limitations. These orders are typically implemented when a jurisdiction faces widespread calamities that hinder normal court processes. For instance, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many states suspended their statutes of limitations through emergency orders.
If your time limit of two years has already passed, consider whether any of these exceptions may apply to you — as you may be able to gain more time.
Claims Involving The Government
In Indiana, the personal injury statute of limitations against government entities differs from the typical two-year limit.
You only have a narrow window of 180 to 270 days to file a lawsuit, depending on the specific entity you are targeting. This timeframe is governed by the Indiana Tort Claims Act statute of limitations, outlined in Indiana Code 34-13-3. This code also dictates that you must submit your claim in writing.
What is The Indiana State Tort Notice?
When you have a personal injury claim against a local governmental entity or one of its employees, it is referred to as a tort claim. These claims can arise from incidents like car accidents or other injury-causing events. Dealing with governmental entities as defendants means that there are stricter legal rules and regulations in place, making it crucial to act swiftly and seek professional legal counsel.
The Indiana Tort Claims Act (Indiana Code 34-13-3 et seq.) mandates that notice must be filed before initiating a tort claim against a state agency or political subdivision. Timing is of the essence here, since failure to file the tort claim notice within the specified time limit will likely prevent you from seeking any available remedies under tort law.
Why It is Important to Act Quickly
Determining whether a party is considered a state agency or a political subdivision may not always be straightforward. In a particular Court of Appeals case, it was ruled that a state university is deemed a political subdivision, subjecting it to the 180-day deadline for tort claim notice. Therefore, it is advisable to file the tort claim notice as soon as possible, ideally within 180 days, to ensure compliance with the applicable requirements.
If you don’t file your case in time, it may be denied. For example, if a tort claim against the government is not settled within 90 days, it is considered to be denied. If you file your claim even one day after the statute of limitations expired, you’ll be dismissed right away.
Example of How The Statute of Limitations Could Affect Your Case
Let’s look at a specific example. Suppose you were involved in a minor car accident on January 1, 2023, while commuting home from work. There seemed to be only minimal damage to your car and you were feeling no immediate pain, so you continued driving and carried on with your evening.
However, two days later, you woke up experiencing neck pain. Seeking medical attention, you are diagnosed with severe whiplash, with the doctor explaining that such symptoms can sometimes manifest days or even weeks after an accident.
Ordinarily, the clock would start ticking from the date of the accident, giving you until January 1, 2025 (exactly 2 years) to initiate legal proceedings. However, since you only discovered your injury on January 3, 2020, the deadline for filing a lawsuit would actually be extended to January 3, 2022. This is a working example of how an exception can extend your timeline — but not forever.
What Are Some Types of Cases That The Statute Applies To?
- Car Accidents — Indiana Code § 34-11-2-1(1). If you’ve been injured as a result of a car accident; whether the accident was caused by impaired driving, lack of experience, aggressive driving, or speeding, you may have a claim.
- Motorcycle Accidents — Improper lane movement, lane splitting, impaired driving, speeding, and distracted driving are all common causes of motorcycle accidents in Indiana. If your accident was caused by any of these faults on the other side, you most likely have a case.
- Truck Accidents — Big rigs are intimidating on the road and can cause a lot of damage. If driver error, equipment failure, road conditions, poorly loaded cargo, or the actions of other drivers around trucks are to blame for an accident, you can make a claim against this.
- Pedestrian Accidents — When vehicles hit pedestrians, the damage can be horrendous. If you were not at fault for your accident, make sure that you file a claim within two years to avoid missing out on your due compensation.
- Product Liability — Indiana Code § 34-20-3-1. Design defects, manufacturing defects, or defects in marketing can all mean that someone else is at fault. Don’t let the seller or manufacturer get away with causing your injury.
- Medical Malpractice — Indiana Code § 34-18-7-1. If you or a loved one is a victim of medical malpractice, it can be very difficult to navigate the legal details. However, with an experienced attorney it’s still very much possible to get justice.
- Accidental or Wrongful Death — When death is caused by the wrongful act of another person or entity, the family members of the deceased have the chance to get justice for their loved one. Nothing can replace them, but it’s important both to get compensation for your loss and to prevent this from happening again.
Experienced Indiana Personal Injury Lawyer
If you want an experienced personal injury lawyer in Indiana, you can’t do better than SLG Accident Attorneys. Led by Attorney Hasan A. Shah, we take a personal approach to each client, ensuring you get all the time and attention your case needs.