Skip to main content

Statute of Limitations and Why You Need to Know Them

By July 21, 2020February 28th, 2024Legal 101
Statute of Limitations

You may not be fluent in “legalese” or it may, at best, induce some big yawns – and that’s okay! That’s what lawyers are for after all, to help explain it all. There’s one legal term, though, that you should know when exploring your legal options: statute of limitations (SOL).

SOLs are laws that set deadlines limiting how long you have to take legal action. If you wait past the SOL to file, your case will be “time-barred” and dismissed. In some cases, the SOL starts ticking right when the incident or accident happens; in other cases, the timer begins when you realize the injury or the reason for it.

Why do statutes of limitations exist?

SOLs trace as far back as ancient Roman times to protect defendants. They exist to help encourage you to take action in a timely manner, ensure that the evidence is fresh, and avoid the unnecessary cruelty of dragging out a charge. Sometimes time limits make sense for a case; however, at times, they cause road blocks to the rights of the person filing the case.

For instance, in terms of sexual abuse, statutes have sometimes proven an unjust barrier to justice. Survivors are often in denial or experience trauma blackouts for years before they realize what happened to them; others might have been minors at the time and haven’t been able to recognize the abuse for a decade or more.

Luckily, in large part due to the visibility of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sex abuse, the MSU gymnastics case and reporting on the #MeToo movement, many states have recently extended their sexual abuse statutes of limitations, and many more are considering it. That is part of the power of taking action. When we share our stories, laws change and more people have the opportunity to seek justice.

What are my statutes of limitations?

Depending on the type of case you are involved in and the state you live in, the SOL will vary.

Statutes are set by state legislative bodies and vary from state to state and by case type. For example: if you sustained a personal injury due to a pharmaceutical product, the SOLs range from one year in states like Louisiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky to up to six years in states like Maine and Minnesota. To look up your statutes by case type and state, check out this guide. The organization RAINN also offers this state-by-state breakdown of statutes focusing on sexual abuse litigation. If you feel like your statutes in your state are unjust, write to your state representatives and share your story – it’s their job to listen.

It’s important to us that the people we serve understand the time-sensitivity to taking legal action. That’s why we always advise that you get the process started as soon as possible – the sooner you begin, the more options will likely be available to you.