North Dakota Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

The basics of North Dakota personal injury law—time limits to sue, where and how to file a lawsuit, damage caps, government injury claim rules, and more.

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

If you've been injured in North Dakota, you might be considering a personal injury (PI) claim or a lawsuit. Chances are, though, that you don't know much about the North Dakota PI laws that will control your case. We'll fill you in on the basics.

We start with North Dakota's statutes of limitations. From there, we'll discuss some of the special rules that apply if you want to sue the government, what happens if you're partly to blame for the accident that injured you, limits on the compensation you're allowed to collect in a PI case, and much more.

North Dakota's Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations

A law that limits your time to file a lawsuit is called a "statute of limitations." North Dakota, like all states, has enacted a number of these laws. First, let's review North Dakota's six-year general rule for PI cases. Then we'll take a look at a few more specific filing deadlines, as well as laws that might give you more time to file in some situations.

North Dakota's PI General Rule: Six Years

As a general rule, you have six years to file a North Dakota personal injury lawsuit in court. (N.D. Cent. Code § 28-01-16(5) (2024).) The six-year clock usually starts running on the day you're injured. Unless you find a more specific statute of limitations for your case, this is the deadline you must follow. This six-year limitation applies to cases involving:

More Specific Statutes of Limitations

North Dakota has several statutes of limitation that are tailored to specific cases. Here are some examples.

Medical malpractice. N.D. Cent. Code § 28-01-18(3) (2024) gives you two years from the date of your injury to sue a doctor or a hospital for malpractice.

What happens if you don't discover your injury right away? For instance, suppose your surgeon accidently leaves a surgical sponge inside you during a surgery. You don't discover it for three years. At that point, the normal two-year limitation period has expired, But it wouldn't be fair to penalize you by denying you the opportunity to seek compensation for an injury you couldn't have discovered sooner.

If you don't discover your malpractice-related injury when it happens, North Dakota's "discovery rule" might give you more time to file. You have two years from the earlier of the date you discover your injury, or the date you should have discovered it, to file your lawsuit. Importantly, there's a deadline on the discovery rule, too. You can't file suit later than six years from the date of the malpractice, unless the doctor or hospital fraudulently conceals it from you.

(Learn more about North Dakota medical malpractice laws.)

Intentional injuries. You have two years to sue, typically from the date you're injured, when someone intentionally harms you. (N.D. Cent. Code § 28-01-18(1) (2024).) This statute of limitations covers injuries resulting from:

When the injuries cause death. When personal injuries cause death, the victim's surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. In most cases, the deadline to file is two years from the date of death.

But when death results from medical malpractice, the two-year clock doesn't start running until the date you discover (or should have discovered) the malpractice. As with other medical malpractice cases, the latest you can file a medical malpractice wrongful death case is six years from the date of the malpractice, unless it was fraudulently concealed.

(N.D. Cent. Code § 28-01-18(4) (2024).)

Can the Statute of Limitations Be Extended?

In some situations, yes, North Dakota law allows an extension of the statute of limitations. Here are some of the most common examples.

Discovery rule. We mentioned North Dakota's discovery rule above, in connection with the medical malpractice statute of limitations. But it's not limited to malpractice cases. The discovery rule applies to PI cases generally. When you don't discover your injury at the time it happens, the statute of limitations clock starts running on the earlier of the date you discover the injury, or the date you should have discovered it had you been reasonably diligent. (See BASF Corp. v. Symington, 512 N.W. 2d 692, 695 (1994).)

Defendant leaves North Dakota. In some cases, the limitation clock doesn't run when the person who's responsible for your injuries (the "defendant") leaves North Dakota. (N.D. Cent. Code § 28-01-32 (2024).)

Injured person is legally disabled. A person who's legally disabled can't manage their own affairs or engage in certain activities without the help or supervision of a parent, guardian, or court. Under North Dakota law, these people are considered legally disabled:

  • minors (those younger than 18 years old)
  • people who are "insane," and
  • prisoners for a term of less than life.

When a legally disabled person is injured, the statute of limitations is extended, subject to these limits:

  • the extension lasts for one year after the disability ends
  • the maximum extension is five years, unless the disabled person is a minor, and
  • in medical malpractice cases, the longest extension a minor can get is 12 years.

(N.D. Cent. Code § 28-01-25 (2024).)

Special Rules for Claims Against the Government

Say you've been injured by a North Dakota employee, or maybe by someone who works for a city like Fargo. Can you file a personal injury suit against the government? In many cases, yes. But suing the government isn't like suing a private individual or a business. Special rules and procedures apply. If you think you have a claim against the government, contact an experienced North Dakota government claims attorney right away.

For starters, usually the government can only be held responsible for negligent (careless) acts of employees who were doing their job duties when they caused your injury. Except in certain cases, the government doesn't pay for injuries that its employees intentionally cause.

Claims against North Dakota. You have three years to file a personal injury lawsuit against the state. The clock starts running on the earlier of the date you discover your injury, or the date you should have discovered it had you been reasonably careful. (N.D. Cent. Code § 28-01-22.1 (2024).) Within 180 days after you discover or reasonably should have discovered your injury, you must notify the North Dakota Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in writing, of:

  • the time, place, and circumstances of your injury
  • the name of any state employee who was involved, and
  • the amount of compensation you're requesting.

(N.D. Cent. Code § 32-12.2-04(1)(a) (2024).)

You should use the OMB claim form to provide this notice. Providing notice is a prerequisite to suing North Dakota for your injuries, but it isn't the same thing as filing a lawsuit.

North Dakota law limits the compensation (called "damages") you're allowed to collect from the state. Here are the limits:

On and After Maximum per Individual Maximum per Occurrence
July 1, 2023 $406,250 $1,625,000
July 1, 2024 $437,500 $1,750,000
July 1, 2025 $468,750 $1,875,000
July 1, 2026 $500,000 $2,000,000

Punitive damages aren't available.

(N.D. Cent. Code § 32-12.2-02(2) (2024).)

Claims against a political subdivision. If you want to sue a North Dakota political subdivision—a city, county, township, school district, or any other unit of local government—you have three years, usually from the date you're injured, to file your case. (N.D. Cent. Code § 32-12.1-10(1) (2024).) The local government might have a law that requires pre-suit notification, so be sure to check local law.

Damages against a municipality are limited to the same amounts as against the state (see table above). (N.D. Cent. Code § 32-12.1-03(2) (2024).)

What If You're Partly to Blame for the Accident?

In the usual PI case, to collect damages for your injuries you must prove that the defendant was negligent. Quite often, the defendant will argue that you were negligent too, and that your share of the negligence should reduce or eliminate the damages you can collect. This legal defense is called "comparative negligence," and a version of it is available in North Dakota.

North Dakota's Modified Comparative Negligence Rule

North Dakota has adopted a modified comparative negligence rule. Under this rule, you're allowed to collect some damages for your injuries as long as your percentage share of the total negligence isn't 50% or more. When you're found to be less than 50% negligent, your share of the blame reduces the damages you can collect by that amount. (N.D. Cent. Code § 32-03.2-02 (2024).) If you're 50% or more to blame, you can't collect any damages.

Example: North Dakota Modified Comparative Negligence

You were grocery shopping one afternoon. While pushing your cart down an aisle, you didn't notice a broken floor tile in your path. You tripped on the broken tile, fell, and broke your ankle. After recovering from your injury, you sued the grocery store for negligence. The store answered that you were negligent too, because you didn't watch where you were going, and asked that your damages be reduced by your share of the fault.

After a jury trial, the jurors decided that the store was 90% to blame, but agreed that the remaining 10% of the negligence was on you. They assessed your total damages at $90,000. How much of your damages can you collect? Because you were 10% at fault, you get to collect 90% of your damages: $90,000 x 90% = $81,000.

How much would you get if the jury decided you were 50% (or more) at fault? Under North Dakota's modified comparative negligence rule, you'd get nothing.

North Dakota Auto Accidents

North Dakota is one of about a dozen no-fault auto insurance states. If you're injured in a North Dakota auto accident, even one that's another driver's fault, you first look to your own no-fault personal injury protection (PIP) insurance to recover at least some of your losses.

Under N.D. Cent. Code § 26.1-41-01 (2024), basic no-fault PIP insurance must pay up to $30,000 per covered person for these benefits:

  • medical bills
  • 85% of lost wages or lost survivors' income, to a maximum of $150 per week
  • replacement household services of up to $15 per day, and
  • funeral and burial expenses of up to $3,500.

PIP doesn't cover damages like pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, and similar intangible injuries. Recovering for those damages means filing an insurance claim or a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. To do that, the accident-related injuries must satisfy North Dakota's "tort threshold." Found at N.D. Cent. Code § 26.1-41-01(21) (2024), the tort threshold requires injuries resulting in death or:

  • medical bills exceeding $2,500
  • dismemberment
  • serious and permanent disfigurement, or
  • disability lasting longer than 60 days.

Where and How Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Personal injury lawsuits are governed by North Dakota law and by the North Dakota Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules can be complicated and difficult to understand. If you aren't familiar with them, and chances are you're not, the time to learn isn't while you're trying to handle your own case. Your best chance of success will come from hiring experienced legal counsel to represent you.

Most PI lawsuits are filed in the North Dakota district court, the court that has the authority to hear most criminal and civil cases. You start a personal injury lawsuit in North Dakota by serving the defendant with your complaint and a summons (N.D. R. Civ. Proc. 4(c) (2024).) Generally speaking, your complaint should describe, in separately numbered paragraphs:

  • the parties who are involved in the case
  • the facts of the case
  • what you claim the defendant did wrong to cause your injuries
  • your injuries, and
  • the relief (usually damages) you want the court to award you.

Your lawyer will take care of preparing, filing, and serving the complaint and other necessary documents.

North Dakota Limits Some Personal Injury Damages

Generally speaking, in a North Dakota personal injury case you're allowed to collect both "economic" and "noneconomic" damages. (See N.D. Cent. Code § 32-03.2-04 (2024).)

Economic damages. Think of these as your out-of-pocket injury-related costs and expenses. They include such things as your medical bills, lost wages and benefits, amounts you pay for replacement household services, and other things you (or your insurance) pay.

Noneconomic damages. Noneconomic damages are for losses that are real, but that don't come out of your pocket. Injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life are covered by this category.

Limit on Economic Damages

Except for cases against the government (discussed above), where total damages—both economic and noneconomic—are limited (or "capped"), North Dakota law doesn't cap economic damages. As a rule, you're allowed to collect the full amount of economic damages you can prove.

Limit on Noneconomic Damages

Under N.D. Cent. Code § 32-42-02 (2024), noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases are capped at $500,000. This cap applies regardless of the number of defendants you're suing, the number of malpractice claims you're making, or the severity of your injuries. It also applies to wrongful death claims resulting from medical malpractice. The jury can't be told about the cap.

Get Help With Your North Dakota Personal Injury Case

We've covered some of the most basic aspects of North Dakota personal injury law. If you've been hurt and you're considering a claim or a lawsuit, there's much more you need to know. A North Dakota personal injury lawyer can fill you in on the details.

When you're ready to move forward with your claim, here's how to find an attorney who's right for you.

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