In Michigan, if you've experienced any kind of property damage as a result of someone else's negligent or intentional action, you could be thinking about filing a lawsuit over the incident. If so, it's important to understand Michigan's statute of limitations for property damage claims brought to the state's court system.
First, we should translate the legalese: A "statute of limitations" is just a state law that limits how much time can pass before you can file a civil lawsuit in court. Every state has passed these laws, and the time limits vary depending on the subject matter of the lawsuit.
In Michigan, a three-year filing statute of limitations deadline applies to any lawsuit seeking the repair or replacement of damaged or destroyed property, whether whether your potential case involves real property (damage to your house or your land) or personal property (including vehicle damage).
This rule can be found at Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5805.
It's important to note that this three-year deadline applies any time you're asking a court to award you monetary compensation for damaged or destroyed property, whether that claim is a standalone lawsuit or part of a larger legal action (a car accident case that includes claims for both personal injury and vehicle damage, for example; although in Michigan, the same three-year deadline applies to both personal injuries and property damage).
If you try to file your Michigan property damage lawsuit after the three-year deadline has passed, the defendant (the person or organization you're trying to sue) will almost certainly make a motion asking the court to dismiss the case. And, except in rare cases where an exemption from the deadline applies (more on these in the next section), the court is sure to grant the dismissal.
Once that happens, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged or destroyed property. So, even if you're convinced that your property damage case will settle out of court, you still want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit if you need to.
In a Michigan property damage lawsuit—and most other kinds of civil lawsuits, for that matter—a number of situations could pause ("toll" in legalese) or extend the lawsuit filing deadline set by the statute of limitations. These include:
The Defendant's Absence From the State. If the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) was (or is) out of the state for any part of the three-year period, and service of the lawsuit isn't possible, the time of absence will probably not be counted under the statute of limitations, as long as it's more than two consecutive months. (Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5853)
Minor/Incapacitated Plaintiffs. If the property owner is under the age of 18 or has been declared legally incapacitated at the time of the property damage incident, the case can be brought after the three-year deadline has passed, but only within one year of the owner's turning 18 or being declared competent (or if a legally incompetent property owner has died, their representatives have one year to file the property damage lawsuit). (Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5851)
Other exceptions may also apply to extend the Michigan statute of limitations time limit, but they're too complex to cover in this article. Do your own research or talk to an attorney for the details.
In Michigan, most property damage lawsuits are filed in the state's District Courts, which hear civil cases where less than $25,000 is being sought by the plaintiff.
If the amount you're seeking looks like it will be more than $25,000, Circuit Court is typically the right place to file your property damage lawsuit. Learn more about Michigan's court system (from courts.michigan.gov).
If you're not planning on asking for more than $6,500 as compensation for your damaged or destroyed property, you might consider small claims court, which in Michigan is run as a division of the state's district courts. Get more information on Small Claims in Michigan (from michiganlegalhelp.org).
If your property damage case is fairly straightforward, it usually makes sense to handle it on your own and try to get a fair settlement before you need to take the matter to court. It can even be a challenge finding a lawyer to take a run-of-the-mill property damage claim. But reaching out to an experienced lawyer—if only to discuss your options—might be a good idea if, on top of your property damage, your case involves personal injury or some other legal issue. Get tips on finding the right lawyer for you and your case.