If you've had your property damaged as a result of someone else's careless or intentional action in New Hampshire, you might be thinking about filing a civil lawsuit over what happened. If so, it's important to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your potential case.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a "statute of limitations" is a state law that puts a strict time limit on your right to have a civil court consider your lawsuit. Miss the deadline, and you effectively lose the right to bring your case to court. Every state has passed these kinds of laws, with time limits that vary depending on the kind of case being filed.
In this article, we'll explain the statute of limitations that applies to property damage lawsuits in New Hampshire, the consequences of missing the deadline, and a few rare situations in which you might be able to extend the time limit.
In New Hampshire, the statute of limitations filing deadline is the same whether your potential lawsuit involves damage to real property (your house, some other building, or your land) or personal property (including vehicle damage). New Hampshire Statutes section 508:4 sets something of a catch-all three year filing deadline for "all personal actions."
So, a vehicle damage claim after a car accident must be brought within three years in New Hampshire. 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 three-year "clock" typically starts running on the day of the incident that led to the damage, although section 508:4 specifically gives plaintiffs a little leeway "when the injury and its causal relationship" to the defendant's actions "were not discovered and could not reasonably have been discovered at the time."
If you try to file your New Hampshire property damage lawsuit after the applicable 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). So it's crucial to pay attention to (and comply with) the New Hampshire 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 New Hampshire, including cases over property damage, a number of situations could serve to extend the lawsuit filing deadline set by the statute of limitations.
For example, special rules usually apply if, at the time the property damage occurs, the property owner is:
These are considered "legal disabilities" by the New Hampshire civil courts, and once the period of legal disability ends -- meaning the property owner turns 18, or is declared legally competent -- he or she will have two years to get their lawsuit filed, according to New Hampshire Statutes section 508:8.
Another potential exception to a strict application of the statute of limitations deadline: When the defendant (the person who is alleged to have caused the property damage) is "absent from and residing out of the state" of New Hampshire before a lawsuit can be filed against him or her, the period of absence probably won't be counted as part of the time limit for filing suit. This rule can be found at New Hampshire Statutes section 508:9.
Other circumstances may affect the New Hampshire statute of limitations, and how the time window is calculated. If you have questions about the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential property damage lawsuit, an experienced New Hampshire attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.