If you've had your property damaged by someone else's carelessness or intentional action in Maryland, you might be considering bringing a civil lawsuit over what happened. If so, it's important to understand the Maryland statute of limitations as it applies to property damage lawsuits.
In case you're not familiar with the term, a "statute of limitations" is a state law that affects a potential plaintiff's right to file a lawsuit, by putting a strict limit on how much time can pass before they can get the case started in 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 Maryland, the consequences of missing the deadline, and the (rare) situations in which the time limit might be extended.
In Maryland, whether your potential case involves damage to real property (your house or your land, for example) or personal property (including damage to vehicles), it must be filed within three years, according to Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code Ann. section 5-101.
This three-year deadline is set by something of a "catch-all" statute of limitations that applies to cases not specifically mentioned elsewhere in Title 5 of Maryland's Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code, which sets the various filing deadlines for all civil lawsuits filed in the state's court system.
So, if a homeowner wants to bring a lawsuit for physical damage to the exterior of his/her house after a car crashes into it, that case must be brought within three years in Maryland. The same goes for a vehicle damage lawsuit after a car accident. In both situations, the statute of limitations "clock" usually starts ticking as soon as the property owner becomes aware (or should have become aware) that someone else caused damage to his or her property.
What happens if you try to file your Maryland property damage lawsuit after the filing window has closed? In that situation, you can count on the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) making a motion asking the court to dismiss the case, based on the missed deadline. And the court is certain to grant the dismissal unless rare circumstances apply to make an extension of the deadline appropriate (more on this later). If that happens, 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 Maryland statute of limitations as it applies to property damage claims.
For most kinds of civil lawsuits in Maryland -- including property damage claims -- a number of situations could effectively extend the three-year lawsuit filing deadline as laid out in the statute of limitations.
If the property owner is under a legal disability at the time the damage occurs (he or she is under the age of 18 or has been declared mentally incompetent), the three-year clock doesn't start running until the disability ends (meaning the property owner turns 18 or is declared competent). Note that the property owner's imprisonment or absence from the state won't count as a legal disability in Maryland. This rule can be found at Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings section 5-201.
Another opportunity to extend the deadline may exist if the defendant is "absent from the state" of Maryland when the property damage cause of action "accrues," meaning when the property owner's right to file the lawsuit arises. In that situation, the defendant can't rely on the statute of limitations as a defense, and the property owner will have the full three years to file his or her lawsuit once the defendant returns to the state. (Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code section 5-205(b).)
Other circumstances may affect the computation of the Maryland statute of limitations. If you've got questions about the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential property damage lawsuit -- especially if the filing deadline is fast approaching -- an experienced Maryland attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.