In Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania, the potential consequences of missing the deadline, and a few rare circumstances in which you might be able to extend the time limit.
In Pennsylvania, 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, Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 42 section 5524 sets a two-year filing deadline for the filing of:
So, a vehicle damage claim after a car accident must be brought within two years in Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania, 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 an unemancipated minor (under the age of 18 in Pennsylvania). In that situation, the property owner will be entitled to the full two years to get his or her lawsuit filed upon turning 18, according to Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 42 section 5533.
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), before a lawsuit can be filed against him or her, departs from the state and remains continuously absent for four months or more, or resides within the state under a false name, 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 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 42 section 5532.
Other circumstances may affect the Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.