If you've had your property damaged or destroyed by someone else's wrongful actions in Vermont, you could be thinking about filing a lawsuit over what happened. If so, it’s important to understand the Vermont statute of limitations that applies to your potential lawsuit, whether your potential case involves real property (your house or your land) or personal property.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a "statute of limitations" is just a state law that affects your right to file a lawsuit over any kind of legal dispute or harm suffered, by putting a limit on how much time can pass before you file the case. Every state has passed these laws, and the time limits vary depending on the subject matter of the lawsuit.
Read on for the details of the property damage statute of limitations in Vermont, the consequences of missing the deadline, and rare circumstances that could alter (and extend) the deadline.
In Vermont, the filing deadline that applies to a property damage lawsuit varies, depending on whether the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) is seeking the repair or replacement of damaged or destroyed real property or personal property.
The Vermont lawsuit filing deadline is six years from the date of any tort (wrongful action) that results in damage to real property (like a house or other structure, or land itself). The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled that the six-year catch-all statute of limitations found at 12 V.S.A. section 511 applies to these kinds of cases.
It's important to note that these filing deadlines apply any time you’re asking a court to award you monetary compensation for damaged or destroyed property, whether that claim is part of a larger legal action or a standalone lawsuit.
If the filing deadline set by the statute of limitations has passed, but you try to file your property damage lawsuit anyway, the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will almost certainly make a motion asking the court to dismiss the case. And, except in rare cases where an exemption from the deadline applies (more on these exceptions in the next section), the court will grant the dismissal. If that happens, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. So, even if you’re pretty sure your property damage case will settle, you still want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit if you need to.
In a Vermont property damage lawsuit -- and most other kinds of civil lawsuits, for that matter -- a number of situations could effectively extend the statute of limitations deadline.
First, if the defendant who is alleged to have caused the property damage is absent from the state of Vermont before the lawsuit can be filed, the time of absence might not be counted as part of the statute of limitations period, according to 12 V.S.A. section 552.
If the property owner is under the age of 18, "lacks capacity to protect his or her interests due to a mental condition or psychiatric disability," or is imprisoned at the time the right to file the lawsuit arises, he or she will be considered under a "legal disability" in Vermont. And 12 V.S.A. section 551 says that the property owner will be able to bring the lawsuit within the applicable time limit once the disability is removed (meaning the owner turns 18, is declared legally competent, or is released from prison).
And if either party is in the military, 12 V.S.A. section 553 will likely apply to effectively pause the running of the statute of limitations "clock."
Other exceptions may also act to extend the Vermont statute of limitations time limit, but they're too complex to cover in this article. To learn the details of exceptions to the statute of limitations, or to get help with your case if the filing deadline is fast approaching, talk with an experienced Vermont attorney.