After a car accident, a slip-and-fall, or any other incident in which someone else's conduct causes you harm in Connecticut, you could be considering filing a personal injury lawsuit. If so, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations that applies to these kinds of cases.
As background, a statute of limitations is a law that sets a strictly-enforced time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in civil court. Every state has these kinds of laws on the books, with deadlines that differ depending on the kind of case being filed.
In this article, we'll explain how Connecticut's statute of limitations for personal injury cases works, why the filing deadline is so important, and a few situations in which the filing deadline might be extended.
The statute of limitations that will apply to most Connecticut personal injury lawsuits can be found at General Statutes of Connecticut section 52-584, which says, "No action to recover damages for injury to the person...caused by negligence, or by reckless or wanton misconduct...shall be brought but within two years from the date when the injury is first sustained."
So, if you want to turn to the state's civil court system and ask for a civil remedy (damages) after an injury caused by someone else in Connecticut, this two-year deadline applies. That's true whether your personal injury case is driven by the liability principle of "negligence" (which applies to claims filed after a car accident, slip and fall incident, and other mishaps) and those governed by intentional tort (such as civil lawsuits over an assault).
Section 52-584 makes clear that, for purposes of this two-year lawsuit filing deadline, the "clock" starts running on "the date when the injury is first sustained or discovered or in the exercise of reasonable care should have been discovered." But keep in mind that if the injured person wants to argue that the "clock" should start on a date later than that of the underlying accident, he or she will have the burden of proving that the injury wasn't reasonably discoverable right away.
If the two-year filing deadline has passed, and you try to file your personal injury lawsuit in court anyway, the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will almost certainly point this out in a motion to dismiss your case. And the court will grant the dismissal unless a rare exception entitles you to extra time (we'll discuss a few of these exceptions later).
Connecticut's personal injury statute of limitations is obviously crucial if you want to take your injury case to court by way of a formal lawsuit, but the statutory filing deadline is also pivotal to your position in personal injury settlement negotiations with the defendant and his or her insurance company. Two years can go by in a hurry, and if you've allowed the deadline to pass without getting your lawsuit filed, and the other side knows it, you'll have lost all your negotiating leverage. After all, "I'll see you in court" becomes an empty threat when that same court is no longer an option for your dispute.
A few situations could pause the running of Connecticut's two-year statute of limitations "clock," effectively extending the filing deadline.
First, if the defendant (the person who allegedly caused the plaintiff's injuries) leaves the state for any period of time after the underlying accident, and before the lawsuit can be filed, the time of absence won't be counted as part of the two years. But note that the filing deadline won't be extended more than seven years under this exception. (General Statutes of Connecticut section 52-590.)
And if the person who caused the underlying accident takes steps to fraudulently conceal his or her liability, the statute of limitations "clock" likely won't start to run until the injured person discovers what actually happened. (General Statutes of Connecticut section 52-595.)
If you have questions about how the Connecticut 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 Connecticut personal injury attorney.