If you've been involved in a slip-and-fall, a car accident, or any other incident where someone else's conduct caused you harm, you may be thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Arizona's civil courts. If so, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for this type of case. (By way of background, a statute of limitations is a law that sets a strictly-enforced time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in court.)
In this article, we'll cover the details of Arizona's personal injury statute of limitations, explain why the deadline is so important, and summarize a few instances when the filing period might be extended.
The Arizona personal injury statute of limitations is spelled out at Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-542, which specifies a two-year deadline for filing any civil case over "injuries done to the person of another,” for "trespass for injury done to the estate or the property of another," and for "injuries done to the person of another when death ensues from such injuries.”
So, cutting through the legalese, this two-year deadline applies to the filing of almost all conceivable types of personal injury lawsuits, whether the case is driven by the liability principle of "negligence" (which applies to most accidents) or intentional tort (which applies to civil assault and battery and other purposeful conduct).
If more than two years have passed since the underlying accident, but you try to file your personal injury lawsuit anyway, the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will almost certainly file a "motion to dismiss" and point this fact out to the court. And unless a rare exception entitles you to extra time (more details on these exceptions later), the court will summarily dismiss your case. Once that happens, you’ve lost your right to ask a court to award you damages for your injuries, no matter how significant they might be, and no matter how obvious the defendant’s liability.
Arizona's personal injury statute of limitations is obviously pivotal if you want to take your injury case to court via a formal lawsuit, but the filing deadline set by this law is also crucial to your position in personal injury settlement negotiations with the defendant and his or her insurance company. If the other side knows that the two-year deadline has passed, you'll have lost all your negotiating leverage, making "I'll see you in court" the very definition of an empty threat.
Arizona has identified a number of different scenarios that might delay the running of the statute of limitations "clock," or pause the clock after it has started to run, effectively extending the filing deadline. Here are some examples of circumstances that are likely to modify the standard timeline.
First, if the injured person was under the age of 18 or was "of unsound mind" at the time of the underlying accident, the two-year statute of limitations "clock" won't start running until the legal disability is "removed" (meaning the person turns 18 or regains his/her proper mental capacity). This exception can be found at Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-502.
Next, if the person who allegedly caused the plaintiff's injuries leaves the state of Arizona after the accident, but before the personal injury lawsuit can be filed, the period of absence likely won't be counted as part of the two-year statute of limitations period (the "clock" is paused while the defendant is out of the state, in other words), according to Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-501.
These are only two examples. Other factual scenarios might also alter the filing deadline. If you have questions about how the Arizona statute of limitations applies to your personal injury case -- especially if the deadline is fast-approaching or has already passed -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Arizona personal injury attorney.