In Oklahoma, as in every state, if you've had your property damaged as a result of someone else's careless or intentional action, you might be thinking about filing a civil lawsuit over the incident. If so, it's important to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your potential case.
By way of background, a "statute of limitations" is a state law that (as the term suggests) limits your right to have a civil court consider your lawsuit, by setting a strictly-enforced deadline for getting the case started. 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 Oklahoma, the potential consequences of missing the deadline, and a few rare circumstances in which you might be able to extend the time limit.
In Oklahoma, the statute of limitations filing deadline is the same whether your potential lawsuit involves damage to your "real" property (that means a house, some other building, or physical land) or your personal property (which includes vehicle damage).
Specifically, Oklahoma Statutes section 12-95 says, "An action for trespass upon real property; [or] an action for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property" must be filed within two years. Here, the phrase "trespass upon" is synonymous with "injury to" in the eyes of the law.
So, a vehicle damage claim after a car accident must be brought within two years in Oklahoma, 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 two-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.
At this point you might be wondering what will happen if you try to file your Oklahoma property damage lawsuit after the applicable time limit has passed. In that situation, 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 in the next section). So it's crucial to pay attention to (and comply with) the Oklahoma 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 lawsuits in Oklahoma, including civil 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 under any "legal disability." That could mean the property owner is a minor (under the age of 18 in Oklahoma), or it could mean that he or she is incapacitated in the eyes of the law (having been declared mentally incompetent or not "of sound mind," by a court or other authority, for example).
If the property owner is under a legal disability, once the period of disability ends -- meaning the property owner turns 18, or is declared legally competent, sticking with our examples -- he or she will have one year to get the lawsuit filed, according to Oklahoma Statutes section 12-96.
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) "leaves the state or conceals himself" in the state 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 Oklahoma Statutes section 12-98.
Other circumstances may affect the Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.