If you've had your property damaged in Minnesota, you might be considering bringing a civil lawsuit against the person you think is to blame for what happened. In that case, it's critical that you understand and comply with the Minnesota statute of limitations for property damage lawsuits, whether your potential case involves real property (damage to your house or your land) or personal property (including vehicle damage).
In case you’re not familiar with the term, a "statute of limitations" is a state law that puts a limit on how much time can pass before you file the case in court. Every state has passed these laws, and the time limits vary depending on the subject matter of the lawsuit.
In the sections that follow, we'll explain the filing deadline in Minnesota, the consequences of missing the deadline, and rare circumstances that might serve to extend the deadline.
Lawmakers in Minnesota have set a (fairly generous) six-year deadline for the filing of any lawsuit seeking compensation for the repair or replacement of damaged or destroyed property in the state, whether the case is over real property or personal property. You can find this law codified at Minnesota Statutes section 541.05.
For example, a lawsuit for negligent damage to a driveway and a vehicle damage lawsuit after a car accident both need to be brought to court within six years in Minnesota, and the statute of limitations clock usually starts ticking as soon as the property owner becomes aware that someone else caused damage to his or her property.
If you try to file your property damage lawsuit after the deadline set by the Minnesota statute of limitations has passed, the defendant (the person 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 exceptions in the next section), the court will grant the dismissal. If that happens, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. So, even if you’re pretty sure your property damage case will settle, and even though six years sounds like a long time, you still want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit if you need to.
In a Minnesota property damage lawsuit -- and most other kinds of civil lawsuits, for that matter -- a number of situations could pause ("toll" in legalese) the statute of limitations clock, effectively extending the lawsuit filing deadline.
For example, when the defendant is out of state for any period of time after the property damage occurs, and it's not possible to serve the lawsuit on him or her, in most instances the time of the defendant's absence from the state won't be counted as part of the six-year statute of limitations period. (Minnesota Statutes section 541.13.)
And if the property owner is under the age of 18 or has been declared legally insane at the time the property damage occurs, or any time afterward, that kind of "legal disability" may suspend the running of the statute of limitations clock for a certain amount of time, but not for more than one year after the disability ceases (meaning the property owner turns 18 or is declared legally competent). (Minnesota Statutes section 541.15.)
Other circumstances may also act to effectively extend the six-year Minnesota statute of limitations time limit, but they're too complicated to explain in this article. 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 Minnesota attorney will have the answers.