In West Virginia, 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 West Virginia, the potential consequences of missing the deadline, and a few rare circumstances in which you might be able to extend the time limit.
In West Virginia, 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, West Virginia Code section 55-2-12 sets a two-year deadline for the filing of a lawsuit over any "damage to property."
So, for example, a vehicle damage claim after a car accident must be brought within two years in West Virginia, 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 West Virginia property damage lawsuit after the 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 West Virginia 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 West Virginia, 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 infant" (which means under 18 in West Virginia) or "insane." In those situations, the statute of limitations "clock" won't start running against the property owner until he or she turns 18 or is declared sane, according to West Virginia Code section 55-2-15. Note that this extension based on "legal disability" (infancy or insanity) can't be relied upon if more than 20 years have passed since the underlying property damage occurred.
Another potential exception to strict application of the statute of limitations deadline exists when the defendant (the person who is alleged to have caused the property damage) is a resident of the state of West Virginia, but before the lawsuit can be filed he or she departs the state, or conceals him/herself within the state, or otherwise acts to obstruct the prosecution of the lawsuit. In those situations, the period of absence/concealment/obstruction probably won't be counted as part of the two-year time period. This rule can be found at West Virginia Code section 55-2-17.
Other circumstances may affect the West Virginia 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 West Virginia attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.