New Hampshire Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

The basics of New Hampshire personal injury laws - time limits to sue, limits on compensation, government injury claim rules, and more.

By , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

You're a New Hampshire resident and you've been injured—maybe by a careless doctor, a dangerous product, or a distracted driver. As you think about filing an insurance claim or a personal injury (PI) lawsuit, you realize that you don't know much about your state's personal injury laws and court procedures. We'll help you get a handle on the basics.

The first thing you need to know is how long you have to file your lawsuit in court. We begin there, with New Hampshire's three-year general rule. Then we'll look at other time limits that apply in particular cases, along with situations where the law might give you more time to file. From there, we examine PI claims against the government, what happens if you're partly to blame for your injuries, how you file your lawsuit, and more.

Filing Deadlines for New Hampshire Personal Injury Lawsuits

New Hampshire has several deadlines, called "statutes of limitations," that limit your time to file a PI lawsuit. The rule for most cases is three years, but the law puts different limits on some claims. We'll look at a few examples.

New Hampshire's General Rule: Three Years to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit

You'll find New Hampshire's general PI statute of limitations at N.H. Rev. Stat. § 508:4(I) (2024). Typically, you have three years from the date you were injured to file your lawsuit in court. But what happens if you didn't know right away that you were injured? It seems unfair that your time to file a case might run out before you even know you're hurt.

In that situation, New Hampshire's "discovery rule" gives you more time to file. Under the discovery rule, when you don't know you've been injured at the time it happens, the statute of limitations clock doesn't start running until the earlier of:

  • the date you discover your injury and its cause, or
  • the date you should have discovered your injury and its cause, had you been reasonably diligent.

The discovery rule doesn't apply to lawsuits for defamation. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 508:4(II) (2024).) A defamation lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date the defamatory statement was made.

Finally, note that this three-year limitation period also applies to New Hampshire wrongful death lawsuits. (See Cheever v. Southern New Hampshire Med. Ctr., 141 N.H. 589, 591 (1997).)

Other Statutes of Limitations for Specific Cases

New Hampshire's general rule covers most, but not all, PI cases. Here are some statutes of limitations that apply in particular cases.

Lawsuits against a local government. When you're suing a local government for a personal injury, the filing deadline is three years from the date you're injured. The discovery rule applies here, too. If your injury wasn't discoverable when it happened, the limitation clock begins running on the date you discovered or should have discovered it. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 507-B:7(I) (2024).)

Lawsuits against New Hampshire. The deadline to file a personal injury suit against the state is three years from the date of injury or death. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 541-B:14(IV) (2024).)

Medical malpractice lawsuits. You have two years from the date of the malpractice to file a lawsuit. Two exceptions to this rule might allow more time.

  • Foreign objects. When the doctor leaves a foreign object inside your body that you couldn't have known about, the discovery rule applies. The two-year clock runs not from the date of the malpractice, but from the date you discovered or should have discovered the presence of the foreign object.
  • Child injured by malpractice. A child younger than eight years old has until their 10th birthday to sue.

(N.H. Rev. Stat. § 507-C:4 (2024).)

Lawsuits over dangerous products. If you're suing because you were injured by a dangerous product, your lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date you discovered or should have discovered your injury. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 507-D:2(I) (2024).)

Can the Filing Deadline Be Extended?

Sometimes, yes. In addition to the discovery rule (discussed above), there are circumstances when New Hampshire law extends the statute of limitations deadline. Here are a couple of examples.

Legal disability. A person who's legally disabled has two years from the date their disability ends to file a personal injury lawsuit. For purposes of this law, "legally disabled" means a person who's:

  • a minor (younger than 18 years old), or
  • "mentally incompetent."

(N.H. Rev. Stat. § 508:8 (2024).)

Person who injured you leaves New Hampshire. When the person who caused your injury leaves New Hampshire, before or after you're injured, the limitation clock doesn't run for the period they're out of the state. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 508:9 (2024).)

Personal Injury Claims Against the Government

If you think you have a PI claim against the government, one of your first calls should be to an experienced New Hampshire government claims lawyer. Suing the New Hampshire government—state or local—isn't like suing a private individual or a business. Special rules and procedures apply. For starters, you must notify the government of your claim shortly after you're injured. And even if you win your case, New Hampshire law limits the compensation ("damages") you can collect.

Pre-Suit Notice Requirements

Before you can sue New Hampshire or a local government for personal injuries, you must provide written notice of your claim. Keep in mind the lawsuit statutes of limitations discussed above, and remember that giving pre-suit notice of your claim isn't the same as filing a lawsuit in court.

Claim against local government. When you claim that a local government is responsible for your injuries, you must give written notice, by registered mail, of "the date, time, and location where the injury or damage occurred" to the "clerk of the governmental unit." The notice deadline is 60 days from the later of:

  • the date you were injured, or
  • the date you discovered or reasonably should have discovered your injury.

(N.H. Rev. Stat. § 507-B:7(I) (2024).)

Claim against New Hampshire. If you plan to sue New Hampshire for your injuries, you must notify the "agency" you believe to be responsible, in writing, within 180 days after you're injured. Your notice must include the "date, time, and location of the injury or damage" you suffered. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 541-B:14(IV) (2024).)

Limits on Damages You Can Collect

The limit on your damages depends on whether you're suing the state or a local government.

Local government damage limits. The most you can collect from a local government for your personal injuries is $325,000. The government's total per-incident liability for all injured persons is $1,000,000. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 507-B:4(I) (2024).)

New Hampshire damage limits. Under N.H. Rev. Stat. § 541-B:14(I) (2024), New Hampshire's personal injury damage liability is capped at the greater of:

  • $475,000 per individual and $3,750,000 per incident, or
  • the proceeds of any insurance policy covering the loss.

Punitive damages—damages meant to punish a wrongdoer for extreme or outrageous misconduct—aren't allowed.

When You're Partly to Blame for Your Injuries

In the typical personal injury case, to collect damages for your injuries you have to prove that the party you're suing (the "defendant") was negligent. Quite often, the defendant will claim that you were negligent too, and that your negligence should reduce or eliminate your damages. This is a legal defense called "comparative negligence," and a version of it is available in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire's Modified Comparative Negligence Rule

Under New Hampshire's modified comparative negligence rule, you can collect some damages for your personal injuries, as long as your percentage share of the total negligence isn't greater than 50%. Your negligence simply reduces the damages you can collect by that amount. But if you're found to be 51% or more to blame for what happened, you can't collect any damages at all. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 507:7-d (2024).)

Example: New Hampshire's Modified Comparative Negligence Rule

You're a pedestrian crossing a busy street. Although you cross in a crosswalk, you do so against the crossing signal, while traffic has a green light. As you enter the crosswalk, a car turning right hits you, causing you serious injuries. You sue the driver for negligence. The driver answers that you were negligent too, because you crossed against the signal.

After a jury trial, the jurors assign 60% of the total negligence to the driver and 40% of the negligence to you. They assess your total damages at $300,000. How much of your damages will you collect? Because you were 40% to blame, you can collect 60% of your damages: $300,000 x 60% = 180,000. The driver's insurer will write you a check for that amount.

What would be the result had the jury assigned 51% (or more) of the negligence to you? Under New Hampshire's modified comparative negligence rule, you'd collect nothing.

Where and How to File Your Personal Injury Lawsuit

Where and how your case is filed will be controlled by state law and by court rules called the Rules of the Superior Court. These rules are complex and can be difficult to understand. Your lawyer—yes, you probably need a lawyer if you're filing a PI lawsuit—knows these rules, knows how they apply to your case, and will handle the preparation and filing of your lawsuit.

Where Your Case Is Filed

Most New Hampshire PI cases are filed in the superior court. When your lawsuit asks for more than $25,000 in damages, the superior court is the only New Hampshire court with authority to hear your case. Your lawyer will select the proper location, or venue, to file your case. Typically, its the county where you live or where the defendant lives. If the defendant is a business, you can sue in the county where it has an office or place of business.

How Your Case Is Filed

Your lawyer will start your personal injury lawsuit by filing a complaint and paying the court filing fee. The contents of your complaint will depend, to a large extent, on the kind of PI case you're filing. In general, though, it will describe, in separately numbered paragraphs:

  • the parties who are involved in the case
  • when, where, and how you were injured
  • your injuries
  • what you claim the defendant did wrong to cause your injuries, and
  • the relief (usually damages) you're asking the court to award you.

Once your case is filed, the court clerk will issue a summons—an order to the defendant to appear in court and defend the case. Your lawyer will make arrangements to serve the defendant with your lawsuit. If a defendant isn't properly served, the court can dismiss them from the suit.

Damage Caps in New Hampshire Personal Injury Cases

Many states have laws that limit (or "cap") the damages you can collect in personal injury cases. New Hampshire used to be one of those states. Damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, and similar injuries were capped at $250,000 in medical malpractice cases and at $875,000 in all other personal injury cases.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that both of these damage caps were unconstitutional. (See Carson v. Maurer, 120 N.H. 925 (1980) (medical malpractice damage cap violated New Hampshire constitution); Brannigan v. Usitalo, 134 N.H. 50 (1991) (personal injury damage cap violated New Hampshire constitution).) Both caps still appear in the New Hampshire statutes, but they're no longer enforced. (See N.H. Rev. Stat. § 507-C:7(II) (2024) (former malpractice cap); N.H. Rev. Stat. § 508:4-d(I) (2024) (former PI cap).)

Long story short: Today, New Hampshire only caps damages in cases against the government, as discussed above. In addition, punitive damages aren't allowed. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 507:16 (2024).)

Strict Liability for Dog Bites or Attacks

Many states shield dog owners from liability the first time their dog injures someone. If the owner had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous, they can be protected by what's often called the "one free bite" rule.

Not so in New Hampshire. N.H. Rev. Stat. § 466:19 (2024) makes a dog owner strictly liable for injuries their dog causes. The owner is legally responsible for injuries even if the dog never before showed any dangerous or aggressive tendencies or behaviors.

Get Help With Your New Hampshire Personal Injury Case

We've covered some of the basics of New Hampshire personal injury law. Here's one important takeaway: You shouldn't try to handle most personal injury lawsuits on your own. The risk of a costly error is just too high. Make a mistake with the statute of limitations, for example, and you can lose your right to collect compensation for your injuries.

Your best chance of success will come from having experienced legal counsel at your side. When you're ready to move forward, here's how to find a lawyer who's right for you.

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