Statute of Limitations

The United States legal system is a complicated place for even the most highly experienced lawyers. Most attorneys spend their entire careers without experiencing many of the American rules and regulations in substantive and procedural law.

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There are thousands of statutes used in U.S. law application, so it’s impossible for even the best attorneys to know them all. However, there is one legal requirement every lawyer knows, and that’s the time frame allowed under the statute of limitations.

The statute of limitations is a legal principle established in every court jurisdiction. That includes all courts at the federal and state levels, although the exact time period limitation varies from state to state and within individual laws in the federal courts. Generally, statutory limits for starting a legal action vary from one to six years, this depends on what type of issue addressing the court.

There are two main court types in the United States, one is the criminal court system having jurisdiction over crimes committed by an individual or as the result of corporate negligence. Most criminal cases are heard by the state. Federal courts rarely hear individual crimes unless they’re specifically committed against a federal act or upon the federal land.

The other American court system deals with civil law. This includes contract law, family relations, and personal injury torts. Mesothelioma lawsuits are a specialized form of civil litigation. As such, asbestos-related cases have special statutory regulations including their own statute of limitations. There are good reasons why asbestos laws have specialized rules.

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Reasons for Statutes of Limitations

Statutory limitations are set for most types of cases, whether criminal or civil. The idea is to establish a fair playing field and not let matters drag on too long. Criminal misdemeanors and less serious offenses usually have a six month to two years statute of limitations across the states.

Criminal charges can’t be laid once the period expires after the date the offense was committed. That is not the case in most felonies. Homicides, for instance, have no statute of limitations. An accused can be tried any time after the fact as long as they’re still alive.

American civil courts have much tighter controls for limiting civil lawsuits and compensation claims. Also known as periods of prescription, limitation statutes are designed to facilitate actions within a reasonable time. What’s considered a reasonable time depends on how serious the issue is and what jurisdiction the matter is filed in.

The purpose of having statutes of limitations leans toward protecting accused people and civil lawsuit defendants. This is a check in the system to ensure that plaintiffs report their complaint promptly and don’t allow a defendant to be taken by surprise long after the alleged wrongdoing occurred.

Reasons for statute of limitations include:

  • Ensuring actions start while physical evidence is available and memories are fresh.
  • Removing the threat of an indefinite lawsuit that can blackmail the defendant.
  • Making sure the courts are not caught in historic complaints that could have been long settled.
  • Protecting the court’s integrity by disallowing plaintiff claims that are tardy or ill-intended.
  • Assuming that any serious complaint would be promptly brought to the court’s attention.
  • Discouraging frivolous or vexatious lawsuits having ulterior motives. 

Mesothelioma Lawsuits have Special Statute of Limitation Rules

Almost all civil law time limitation statutes have a commencement time starting when the issue first occurred. For most personal injury cases like automobile accidents or slips and falls, the clock starts ticking when the crash happened or the plaintiff went down. It’s easy to establish when these injuries occurred and it’s reasonable that any plaintiff would take action shortly after. If they hesitate and linger on past the statutory limitation date, the court takes the view the plaintiff had their chance and it’s not fair to the defendant to respond far in the future.

Mesothelioma and other asbestos-caused diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and other pleural disorders are totally different. Every court recognizes the uniqueness of how mesothelioma operates. There’s an extremely long latency period with mesothelioma, it takes anywhere from 10 to 50 years after the patient experienced asbestos exposure until the time the symptoms present and the disease is diagnosed.

Enter the “Discovery of Harm” rule. This exception to the normal statute of limitation applies perfectly to mesothelioma compensation claims and civil court lawsuit filing time. It’s not remotely reasonable to think a person later diagnosed with mesothelioma would have anticipated their injury at the time exposure occurred.

This life-threatening injury didn’t happen on one particular date that’s clearly provable. The risk of developing mesothelioma depends on factors that occur over a period of time. It depends on how much asbestos the patient was exposed to, how long they were exposed and what type of asbestos fibers they encountered. It also depends on how many locations they suffered asbestos exposure as this can bring in multiple defendants and involve different jurisdictions.

For these reasons, all courts recognize that asbestos-related claims need to commence within a certain period limit after the disease was diagnosed or ought to have been known. Mesothelioma cases aren’t ruled or limited by when exposure occurred and the triggering event happened. However, once a patient knows they have mesothelioma, it’s their clear responsibility to retain a lawyer and file a civil claim before time runs out. This time limit is different across America.

Statute of Limitation Periods in America

As a rule, United States federal courts have a four-year limitation of action for all civil cases. Federal courts also recognize the discovery of harm principle but can defer to a state’s statute of limitations. Potential plaintiffs should immediately discuss the time limit when they retain a lawyer as this is a serious legal issue in mesothelioma cases. These are the statute of limitation periods for the American States:

  • 1 Year: California, Kentucky, Louisiana
  • 2 Year: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia
  • 3 Year: Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Washington DC, Wisconsin
  • 4 Year: Florida, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wyoming
  • 5 Year: Missouri
  • 6 Year: Maine

These statutes of limitation rules refer to living patient lawsuit claim filing times. Wrongful death lawsuits filed by spouses or family members have different limits in various states. The living limitation and wrongful death periods can be higher or lower depending on how the statute is formed. It’s also possible for a family member to file a wrongful death suit when a member passes who currently has an active mesothelioma suit.

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With vast experience handling mesothelioma cases, we fight on behalf of patients, demanding justice from negligent asbestos companies.

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Retaining a Mesothelioma Lawyer

Filing a civil court mesothelioma claim is the first step in what can be a long and complicated case. It’s vitally important to start an action within the limitation allowance. Late filing is sufficient grounds to have a lawsuit dismissed, and the odds of winning a limitation appeal are low. This is why it’s so important to retain a specialized mesothelioma lawyer as soon as a diagnosis is confirmed.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Stephanie KiddWritten by:


Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

View 7 Sources
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  3., “What are the Statute of Limitations?”, Retrieved from Accessed on 24 January 2018
  4. Cornell Law School, “Time Limits on the Commencement of Civil Actions Arising from Acts of Congress”, Retrieved from Accessed on 24 January 2018
  5. Digital Commons Law, “Civil Procedure - Statute of Limitations - Federal Application of State Law”, Retrieved from Accessed on 24 January 2018
  6. United States Department of Justice, “Time of Limitations Period”, Retrieved from Accessed on 24 January 2018
  7., “Mesothelioma Statute of Limitations”, Retrieved from Accessed on 24 January 2018
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