Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations are laws which say how long, after certain events, a case may be started based on those events. If the statute of limitations has run out, a case should not be started in court. If a case is started after the statute of limitations has run out, it is called time barred. A defendant or respondent can ask the court to dismiss the case if it is time barred by the statute of limitations.

Statute of limitations laws are based on fairness. Over time, memories fade, evidence is lost, and witnesses disappear. People get on with their lives and don’t expect court cases from events in the past – unless a really horrible crime has been committed.

The amount of time by when a person or agency can start a case is different depending on the claim. For example, cases about real property have a long time period, while slander and libel have short time periods. Some crimes, like murder, are so terrible that they often have no limitations period.

Except for when a government agency is sued, there is almost always at least one year from the date of an event to start a case no matter what type of claim it is. You should have no statute of limitations worries if you file your case within this one-year period.


Civil Cases

In civil cases, statutes of limitations usually range between one and ten years.

  • Sometimes this time period is counted from the date of the event itself – as in the date of a personal injury.
  • Other times, this period is counted from the date of discovery of a condition one wishes to put right, such as discovering a defect in a manufactured good.

Visit the Statutes of Limitations timetable to find the time period for your civil case.


Criminal Cases

In criminal cases, statutes of limitations have a very wide range depending on if the case is for:

  • an infraction, like a parking ticket,
  • a misdemeanor, like shop-lifting, or
  • a felony, like murder.

Visit the Statutes of Limitations timetable to find the time period for your criminal case.


Special Rules: Notice of Claim

Before you can start a case against a town, village, city or county agency you have to tell the agency that you plan to sue. You have only 90 days to notify the agency. Your time starts running from the day you were injured or your items were damaged. You can’t start a case in court unless you notify the agency. If you miss the deadline, even by one day, the court may dismiss your case.

Note: This notice rule does not apply to cases based on child sex abuse.

You can get a notice form from the agency you are suing. This is called a Notice of Claim form. Fill it out and the agency will give you a claim number. The agency may make you an offer to settle, refuse to pay you, or do nothing. If the dispute is not settled after 30 days, you can start a case in court. Don’t wait more than a year and 90 days to file your case in court or you will be time barred by the statute of limitations. Read General Municipal Law 50-E.

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