What is the Property Damage Statute of Limitations in North Carolina?

Comply with North Carolina's statute of limitations lawsuit-filing deadline or you'll lose your right to sue over damaged or destroyed property.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 11/16/2023

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 and comply with the state's statute of limitations for property damage claims.

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.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that puts a strictly-enforced limit on how much time can pass before you must file a lawsuit in court. Every state has these laws on the books, with different time limits depending on the kind of case being filed.

What's the Property Damage Lawsuit-Filing Deadline in North Carolina?

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 usually 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 their 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.

Get the details on making a claim for property damage.

What's the Statute of Limitations for Construction Defect Lawsuits In North Carolina?

If you believe that your property damage was caused by a construction defect, and you want to bring a lawsuit against the builder or contractor, chances are the same three-year deadline we've been discussing will also apply to that kind of case. That's true whether the basis of the claim is:

  • the builder/contractor's negligence, or
  • a broken contract or breached warranty involving the quality of the construction.

But exactly when the statute of limitations "clock" starts running on a construction defect lawsuit often depends on whether the problem was easily discoverable, or was hidden (or "latent"). And there's an over-arching deadline (called a "statute of repose") that says a North Carolina construction defect lawsuit must be filed within six years of when the project was "substantially" completed, or when work was last done.

This area of the law can get complicated, so it might make sense to talk to a North Carolina attorney if you think your property damage case involves a construction defect. Learn more:

When Does the Statute of Limitations "Clock" Start In North Carolina?

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." So, as soon as you actually know—or should know in the eyes of the law—that your property was damaged, that's when the clock starts ticking. But as we touched on above, this issue can get complicated in cases where a construction defect is the suspected cause of the property damage.

What If I Miss the Lawsuit-Filing Deadline In North Carolina?

If you try to file your North Carolina property damage lawsuit after the applicable deadline has passed, 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 an extension of the deadline applies to your situation (more on this later).

If your case is dismissed, you've lost your right to any legal remedy for the damage to your property, no matter how costly it ends up being. That's why it's crucial to pay attention to (and comply with) the North Carolina statute of limitations for property damage claims.

Extending the Lawsuit-Filing Deadline in North Carolina

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. Let's look at a few examples.

If the Property Owner Is Under a "Legal Disability." Special statute of limitations 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, the property owner is considered to be under a "legal disability," and the three-year "clock" typically won't start running until the period of disability ends (meaning the property owner turns 18 or is declared competent). This rule can be found at North Carolina General Statutes section 1-17.

Defendant's Absence From the State. If the person who's alleged to have caused the property damage leaves the state of North Carolina before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of 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. Do some additional research or talk to a North Carolina attorney for more information.

Where Should I File a Property Damage Lawsuit In North Carolina?

Most property damage lawsuits are filed in one of the two main branches of North Carolina's civil court system:

  • If your losses ("damages" in the language of the law) add up to less than $25,000, you'll file your lawsuit in North Carolina's District Courts.
  • If your damages will amount to more than $25,000, North Carolina Superior Court is typically the right place to file your property damage lawsuit.

In most situations, you'll file your property damage lawsuit in the North Carolina county where the person you're suing lives. Learn more about Filing a Lawsuit In North Carolina (from nccourts.gov).

Can I File a North Carolina Property Damage Case In Small Claims Court?

Yes. If you're not seeking more than $5,000 to $10,000 from the at-fault party as compensation for your property damage losses (the dollar limit varies depending on the county), you can file a small claims action. Learn more about Small Claims in North Carolina (from nccourts.gov).

Do I Need a Lawyer for a North Carolina Property Damage Claim?

If your property damage case is fairly straightforward, it usually makes sense to handle it on your own and try to get a fair insurance settlement before you need to file a lawsuit in court. It can even be a challenge to find a lawyer who's willing to take a run-of-the-mill property damage case.

But reaching out to an experienced lawyer—if only to discuss your options—might be a good idea if your case involves personal injury, a construction defect, or some other legal issue, in addition to property damage. Get tips on finding the right lawyer for you and your case.

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