If you've had your property damaged as a result of someone else's careless or intentional action in New Mexico, 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 Mexico, the consequences of missing the deadline, and a few rare situations in which you might be able to extend the time limit.
In New Mexico, 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). Specifically, New Mexico Statutes section 37-1-4 gives a potential plaintiff four years to file any civil lawsuit "founded upon...injuries to property."
So, a vehicle damage claim after a car accident must be brought within four years in New Mexico, and the same deadline applies to a lawsuit filed by a homeowner claiming that physical damage to the exterior of her house was caused by a neighbor's negligence.
The four-year "clock" typically starts running on the day of the incident that led to the damage, although, in an attempt to push the filing deadline back, the property owner could argue that the damage -- or the cause of the damage -- could not reasonably have been discovered right away.
If you try to file your New Mexico 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 Mexico 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 Mexico, 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 Mexico 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 one year to get their lawsuit filed, according to New Mexico Statutes section 37-1-10.
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) "shall have been or shall be absent from or out of the state or concealed within the state" of New Mexico before a lawsuit can be filed against him or her, the period of absence or concealment probably won't be counted as part of the time limit for filing suit. This rule can be found at New Mexico Statutes section 37-1-9.
Other circumstances may affect the New Mexico 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 Mexico attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.