If you've had your property damaged through someone else's careless or intentional action in North Carolina, and you're considering filing a lawsuit over what happened, it's critical to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your potential civil 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 file your lawsuit in 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 North Carolina, the consequences of missing the deadline, and a few rare situations in which you might be able to extend the time limit.
In North Carolina, whether your potential case involves damage to real property (your house or your land, for example) or personal property (including vehicle damage), it must be brought to the state's civil court system within three years. This rule can be found at North Carolina General Statutes section 1-52.
So, if a homeowner wants to bring a lawsuit for physical damage to the exterior of his/her house caused by someone else's negligence, that case must be brought within three years in North Carolina. The same goes for a vehicle damage claim after a car accident.
When does the statute of limitations "clock" start ticking? Section 1-52 explicitly states that the three-year time period starts when damage to the property "becomes apparent or ought reasonably to have become apparent to the claimant, whichever event first occurs."
What happens if you try to file your North Carolina property damage lawsuit after the three-year time limit has expired? In that situation, it's a safe bet that the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will file a motion asking the court to dismiss the case. And the court is certain to grant the dismissal unless rare circumstances make an extension of the deadline appropriate (more on this later).
If that happens, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. That's why it's crucial to pay attention to (and comply with) the North Carolina statute of limitations for property damage claims.
For most kinds of civil lawsuits in North Carolina -- including property damage claims -- a number of (relatively rare) situations could effectively extend the three-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 has been declared insane or legally incompetent. In those situations, since the property owner is considered to be under a "legal disability," the three-year "clock" typically won't start running until the period of disability ends (meaning the property owner turns 18 or is declared sane or competent). This rule can be found at North Carolina General Statutes section 1-17.
And if the person who is alleged to have caused the property damage leaves the state of North Carolina before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of his or her absence probably won't be counted as part of the three-year time limit for filing suit, according to North Carolina General Statutes section 1-21.
Other circumstances may affect the North Carolina 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 North Carolina attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.