If you've had your property damaged through someone else's careless or intentional action in Rhode Island, 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 bring your case to 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 Rhode Island, the consequences of missing the deadline, and a few rare situations in which you might be able to extend the time limit.
In Rhode Island, 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 10 years, which is the "catch-all" deadline for the filing of many civil lawsuits as set by Rhode Island General Laws section 9-1-13(a).
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 10 years in Rhode Island. The same goes for a vehicle damage claim after a car accident.
In case you're wondering, Rhode Island's 10-year window is one of the most plaintiff-friendly among all states. Most states adhere to a two- or three-year time limit for filing property damage lawsuits.
What happens if you try to file your Rhode Island property damage lawsuit after the time limit has passed? 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 these rules later).
If your lawsuit is dismissed as time-barred under the statute of limitations, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. Even though 10 years is a long time, it's still crucial to pay attention to (and comply with) the Rhode Island 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 civil lawsuits in Rhode Island -- including property damage claims -- a number of (relatively rare) situations could serve to extend the two-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 "of unsound mind" (having been declared insane or legally incompetent). In those situations, the property owner is considered to be under a "legal disability," and once the period of disability ends -- meaning the property owner turns 18 or is declared sane or competent -- he or she will have the full 10 years to get a civil lawsuit filed over the property damage. This rule can be found at Rhode Island General Laws section 9-1-19.
And if the person who is alleged to have caused the property damage leaves the state of Rhode Island before the lawsuit can be filed, "and does not have or leave property or estate in the state that can be attached by process of law," the period of his or her absence probably won't be counted as part of the 10-year time limit for filing suit, according to Rhode Island General Laws section 9-1-18.
Other circumstances may affect the Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.