What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Michigan?

The personal injury statute of limitations sets a strict time limit on your right to ask a Michigan court for a legal remedy after an accident.

Whether your potential legal claim stems from a car accident, a slip and fall, or any other incident where someone else’s conduct caused you harm, you could be thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Michigan's civil courts. If so, it's critical to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for these kinds of cases (a statute of limitations is a law that puts a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in court). In this article, we'll cover the details on Michigan's version of this law, explain why the deadline is so important, and summarize a few instances when the time limit might be extended.

Three Years is the Standard Time Limit for Michigan Personal Injury Lawsuits

The Michigan personal injury statute of limitations is spelled out at Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5805, which says: "the period of limitations is 3 years after the time of the death or injury for all actions to recover damages for the death of a person, or for injury to a person or property."

In plain English, that means after another person's careless or intentional act causes you injury, and you want to ask a court for a civil remedy for your losses, you have three years to get the initial documentation (the "complaint" and other required paperwork) filed in court, and the "clock" typically starts on the date of the underlying accident or incident that caused the injuries.

So, Michigan's three-year deadline applies to 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).

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If more than three 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.

Michigan'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 three-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.

Exceptions to the Michigan Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

Michigan has identified a variety of different factual scenarios that might serve to delay the running of the statute of limitations "clock," or pause the clock after it has started to run, effectively extending the three-year filing deadline set by section 600.5805. Here are some examples of circumstances that are likely to modify the standard timeline:

  • If the injured person is "insane" at the time of the underlying accident, he or she will have one year to file the lawsuit once the period of "insanity" is over. Note that "insane" in this context means "a condition of mental derangement" that prevents the sufferer from comprehending his or her rights, and is "not dependent on whether or not the person has been judicially declared to be insane." (Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5851)
  • If the injured person was under the age of 18 at the time of the underlying accident, he or she will have one year to file the personal injury lawsuit after turning 18. (Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5851)
  • if the person who allegedly caused the injury (the defendant) leaves the state of Michigan at some point after the underlying accident, and before the lawsuit can be filed, and is gone for more than two months, the period of absence likely won't be counted as part of the two years, as long as there is no way for the plaintiff to "serve" the defendant with the lawsuit during the absence (Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5853).

If you have questions about how the Michigan 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 Michigan personal injury attorney.

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