If you've had your property damaged in New York, you might be considering filing a lawsuit against whoever is legally responsible for what happened. If so, one of your first considerations is the statute of limitations, and how it might apply to any property damage claim you decide to bring to court in New York.
First things first: A "statute of limitations" is a state law that puts a deadline on your right to file a lawsuit over any kind of legal dispute or harm suffered. Every state has passed these laws, with time limits that vary depending on the subject matter of the lawsuit.
Let's look at the filing deadline in New York, why this rule is so crucial to your rights, and a few rare exceptions that could extend the filing deadline.
In New York, a three-year filing deadline applies to most lawsuits seeking the repair or replacement of damaged or destroyed property, whether your potential case involves:
You'll find this law at New York Civil Practice Law & Rules section 214.
Get the details on making a claim for property damage.
When a lawsuit claims that a construction defect resulted in property damage, the New York statute of limitations that applies will largely depend on whether the basis for the lawsuit is:
While a number of different statute of limitations deadlines might apply to a New York construction defect case, it can also be tricky to figure out exactly when the "clock" starts running in these kinds of lawsuits. When was the project "completed" for purposes of the law? Was the defect hidden ("latent") or fairly obvious?
Construction defect cases can get complicated, so talking with a New York lawyer might make sense if your property damage case looks like it might involve suing a builder or contractor. Learn more about legal issues related to home defects and damage, and get details on suing over new home construction defects in New York.
In most instances, the statute of limitations "clock" starts running on the day the property damage occurs. So a New York property owner usually has three years from that date to get any civil lawsuit filed against the person who caused the damage. But as with the construction defect scenario we discussed above, there might be situations where the property damage isn't discovered (and couldn't reasonably be discovered) right away, so exactly when the statute of limitations period starts might become a question for the court to rule on, after hearing arguments from both sides.
It's important to note that this three-year deadline applies any time you're asking a court to award you compensation for damaged or destroyed property, whether that claim is part of a larger legal action or a standalone lawsuit. Of course, given that the same statute of limitations applies to most injury-based lawsuits in New York, chances are that any case involving both personal injury and property damage (a car accident case for example) will be subject to the same three-year filing deadline.
If you try to file your New York property damage lawsuit after the three-year window has closed, 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 situations where an exception to the deadline applies (more on these in the next section), the court will grant the dismissal.
If that happens, you've lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. So, even if you're pretty sure your property damage dispute will be resolved out of court, you still want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit if settlement talks break down. Otherwise, you've lost all your negotiation leverage.
Learn more about the statute of limitations deadline in civil cases.
In a New York 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:
Other exceptions may also apply to extend the New York statute of limitations time limit, but they're too complex to cover in this article. Do your own research or talk to a New York attorney for the details.
Depending on how much compensation ("damages") you're asking for, you might file your New York property damage case in a number of different courts:
It can be challenging to find a lawyer who's willing to take a run-of-the-mill property damage case, so if your claim is fairly straightforward, it usually makes sense to handle it on your own, especially if there's an insurance policy in play. In that situation, it's often a good strategy to try getting a fair insurance settlement before filing a lawsuit in court.
If your case involves personal injury, a construction defect, or some other legal issue in addition to property damage, discussing your options with an experienced New York lawyer might be a good idea. Get tips on finding the right lawyer for you and your case.