If you've had your property damaged through someone else's careless or intentional action in Delaware, and you're considering filing a lawsuit over what happened, it's critical to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your potential civil case.
A "statute of limitations", for those not familiar with the term, is a state law that puts a strictly-enforced limit on how much time can pass before you must file your case. Miss the deadline and you effectively lose the right to bring your case to court. Every state has these laws on the books, with different time limits depending on the kind of case being filed.
In this article, we'll explain the property damage lawsuit filing deadline in Delaware, the consequences of missing the deadline, and a few rare situations in which you might be able to extend the time limit.
In Delaware, whether your potential case involves damage to real property (your house or your land, for example) or personal property (including vehicle damage), it must be brought to the state's civil court system within two years.
So, if a homeowner wants to bring a lawsuit for physical damage to the exterior of his/her house caused by someone else's negligence, that case must be brought within two years in Delaware. The same goes for a vehicle damage claim after a car accident.
What happens if you try to file your Delaware property damage lawsuit after the two-year time limit has passed? In that situation, it's a safe bet that the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will file a motion asking the court to dismiss the case, based on the missed filing deadline. And the court is certain to grant the dismissal unless rare circumstances make an extension of the deadline appropriate (more on these rules later).
If your lawsuit is dismissed as time-barred under the statute of limitations, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. That's why it's crucial to pay attention to (and comply with) the Delaware statute of limitations for property damage cases, even if you're fairly certain you'll be able to resolve the situation without resorting to a lawsuit.
For most kinds of civil lawsuits in Delaware -- including property damage claims -- a number of (relatively rare) situations could serve to extend the two-year lawsuit filing deadline.
For example, special rules usually apply if, at the time the property damage occurs, the property owner is "under disability of infancy or incompetency of mind," meaning they are under the age of 18 or have been declared insane or legally incompetent. In those situations, the property owner is considered to be under a "legal disability," and once the period of disability ends -- meaning the property owner turns 18 or is declared sane or competent -- he or she will have three years to get a civil lawsuit filed over the property damage. This rule can be found at Delaware Code Title 10 section 8116.
And if the person who is alleged to have caused the property damage leaves the state of Delaware before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of his or her absence probably won't be counted as part of the two-year time limit for filing suit, according to Delaware Code Title 10 section 8117.
Other circumstances may affect the Delaware statute of limitations, and how it's calculated. If you've got questions about the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential property damage lawsuit, an experienced Delaware attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.