In Montana, as in every state, if you've had your property damaged as a result of someone else's careless or intentional action, you might consider filing a lawsuit over what happened. If so, it's critical to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your potential 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 Montana, the consequences of missing the deadline, and a few rare situations in which you might be able to extend the time limit.
In Montana, whether your potential case involves damage to real property (your house, some other building, or your land) or personal property (including vehicle damage), it must be brought to the state's civil court system within two years, according to Montana Code Annotated section 27-2-207. Specifically, this statute sets a two-year deadline for all lawsuits arising from:
So, a vehicle damage claim after a car accident must be brought within two years in Montana. The same goes for a lawsuit by a homeowner who alleges that physical damage to the exterior of his/her house was caused by someone else's negligence. The two-year "clock" typically starts running when the property owner becomes aware (or should reasonably have become aware) of the incident that led to the damage.
If you try to file your Montana property damage lawsuit after the time limit has passed, you can count on the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) filing a motion with the court, asking that the case be dismissed. 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. So it's crucial to pay attention to (and comply with) the Montana 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 property damage claims -- and for most other kinds of civil lawsuits in Montana -- a number of 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 the age of 18 or is suffering from a mental disorder requiring his or her commitment to an institution. 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 mentally competent -- he or she will have the full two years to get the property damage lawsuit filed. (Note: The period of limitations can't be extended more than five years based on commitment to an institution.) This rule can be found at Montana Code Annotated section 27-2-401.
And, under Montana Code Annotated section 27-2-402, if the person who is alleged to have caused the property damage leaves the state of Montana before the lawsuit can be filed, and he or she can't be served with "process" (meaning the lawsuit and the summons as required by the court), the period of absence probably won't be counted as part of the two-year time limit for filing suit.
Other circumstances may affect the Montana 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 Montana attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.