Minnesota Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

Learn about Minnesota personal injury law, including how long you have to file suit, where your case will be filed, what happens if you're partly to blame for your injuries, and more.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Minnesota law sets the rules for personal injury cases in the state. So, if you've been hurt by someone else's negligence, you must understand how state law applies to your situation. Even if you're pursuing an insurance settlement, and don't plan on going to court, your compensation could be influenced by Minnesota's personal injury rules and filing deadlines. Knowing your legal rights and obligations will put you in the best position to get a fair resolution to your case.

Minnesota's Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits

Like every state, Minnesota sets a limit on the amount of time you have to start a case in civil court. These deadlines are called "statutes of limitations," and they vary depending on the kind of lawsuit you want to file.

The Filing Deadline for Most Personal Injury Cases In Minnesota

If you're seeking compensation because you've been harmed by someone else's negligence, you'll be filing a personal injury lawsuit. Minnesota's statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is two years. (Minn. Stat. section 541.07 (2023)).

Special Deadlines for Specific Injury-Related Cases In Minnesota

Certain kinds of harm (or specific types of injury-related actions) have their own dedicated filing deadline in Minnesota. For example:

Minnesota's "Some Damage" Rule for Measuring the Statute of Limitations Deadline

Unlike many other states, Minnesota does not use the so-called "discovery rule." Under that rule, the statute of limitations deadline is measured from the date someone knew (or should have known) the harm they suffered and the identity of the person responsible.

Instead, Minnesota uses what its courts call the "some damage" rule. This means that your deadline for filing a personal injury case is measured from the date you suffered at least some harm that entitles you do a legal remedy.

This distinction doesn't come up in a typical personal injury case, because usually a person will realize they've been harmed either immediately, or soon after an accident. But it can be extremely important in cases involving toxic chemicals, prescription drugs, or medical malpractice. In these kinds of cases the health problems caused by a defendant's wrongdoing often develop over the course of months or years.

The difference between the discovery rule and the "some damage" rule is illustrated by how the Minnesota Supreme Court has handled lawsuits over asbestos exposure:

  • The discovery rule. A person's deadline for filing a lawsuit is measured from the date they learned (or should have learned) that they were harmed by the asbestos in a particular company's products.
  • The "some damage rule." A person's deadline for filing a lawsuit is measured from the date they become aware that they have a health problem related to asbestos exposure.

If you suffer a health problem or injury and aren't sure how it happened, remember that Minnesota makes it your responsibility to find out who is responsible. You can't ask for more time to identify potential defendants.

(Palmer v. Walker Jamar Co., 945 N.W.2d 844 (Minn. 2020).)

The Consequences of Missing Minnesota's Personal Injury Lawsuit Filing Deadline

If you don't get your lawsuit filed before the two-year window closes, you'll likely lose your right to have the court hear your case. That means, no matter how badly you were hurt or how clear the other side's fault might be, you'll be left without any legal remedy for your injuries and related losses. This harsh result illustrates the importance of understanding and complying with the statute of limitations.

Remember that the lawsuit filing deadline also affects your timeline for negotiating an insurance settlement. If you wait too long to pursue a claim, or don't keep moving the process forward, you risk running out of time to file a lawsuit if you eventually decide that it's necessary. Insurance companies are aware of these legal deadlines, and your ability to negotiate a fair settlement will suffer if you don't have the option of going to court.

When Minnesota Allows Extensions of the Statute of Limitations Deadline

As we discussed above, Minnesota uses the "some damage" rule. Instead, your deadline for starting a personal injury case is measured from the date you realize you've suffered a harm that entitles them to file a lawsuit. But the state still recognizes that there are situations where a plaintiff is entitled to more time. Let's look at three examples.

The injured person is subject to a "legal disability." This exception applies, for example, if a plaintiff was harmed when they were under 18, or when they were incapacitated by a mental illness. It is difficult or impossible for people in those situations to protect their legal interests. Therefore, Minnesota law grants these potential plaintiffs additional time to sue. But any lawsuit must be filed within one year of the person turning 18 or recovering from their illness. And the deadline will not be extended more than five years on account of mental illness, even if the person does not recover within that time.

The at-fault person is not in Minnesota. A lawsuit can't get underway until the plaintiff has notified the defendant that they've been sued. But it can be difficult or impossible to locate and notify a defendant who is not in the state. Therefore, a Minnesota court can subtract the time a defendant was out of the state when calculating the statute of limitations deadline. Keep in mind though, that this additional time is not granted automatically. A plaintiff has to be able to show that they did their best to locate the defendant and serve them with the necessary legal paperwork, but were unable to do so.

The defendant engages in "fraudulent concealment." Minnesota law recognizes that it would be wrong to allow someone to benefit from hiding their responsibility for another person's injuries. This is called "fraudulent concealment." If a plaintiff can show that a defendant engaged in this kind of behavior, the resulting delay will not be counted when calculating the statute of limitations.

(Minn. Stat. § 541.13 (2023); Minn. Stat. § 541.15 (2023); DeCosse v. Armstrong Cork Co., 319 N.W.2d 45 (Minn. 1982).)

How to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Minnesota

The first step in a civil lawsuit is filing a complaint in civil court. Next, the plaintiff must notify the defendant of the lawsuit by serving them with a copy of the complaint and a summons. (One reason to consider working with an attorney is that your lawyer can take responsibility for making sure all of the necessary paperwork is completed on time and according to the rules.)

Minnesota's District Courts (also known as trial courts) have the power to hear most civil lawsuits in the state. In most cases a lawsuit will be filed in the county where the defendant lives or has their business.

If your injuries weren't all that serious, and you're not seeking more than $15,000 from the at-fault party, you can file in Minnesota's Conciliation Court. This is Minnesota's small claims court. It uses special rules that are designed to make the legal process less complicated and more efficient for people who choose to represent themselves.

The Minnesota Judicial Branch's website has additional information if you have questions about how the state's courts work, or about the rules for civil lawsuits.

What Happens When a Plaintiff Shares Fault for Their Own Injuries

When an injured person is found to be partly responsible for the accident giving rise to their claim, it can affect how much compensation they receive. In shared fault cases, Minnesota follows a rule known as "modified comparative negligence."

If a defendant is entirely responsible for a plaintiff's injuries, they are also fully responsible for the plaintiff's damages. These damages include reimbursement for a plaintiff's financial losses (like the cost of their medical care) and compensation for non-economic losses (like the pain and suffering caused by their injuries).

Under Minnesota's modified comparative negligence rule, a defendant's financial responsibility is reduced in proportion to the plaintiff's responsibility for their own injuries. And, if the plaintiff is more than 50% responsible, they cannot recover any damages at all from the defendant.

(Minn. Stat. § 604.01 (2023).)

The Effect of Minnesota's Modified Comparative Negligence Rule

Suppose someone is late for an appointment and, as they rush through the building's lobby, they slip and fall. They find out that the tile floor was slippery because it had just been mopped--but no one remembered to put up any warnings for people entering and leaving the building. The person suffers a broken wrist in their fall.

After a trial, the jury determines that:

  • the plaintiff's total damages are $10,000
  • the defendant, the building's landlord, is 80% responsible because they failed to post warning signs, and
  • the plaintiff injured person is 20% responsible because, if they'd been walking more slowly, they could have noticed and avoided the danger.

Here, under the Minnesota modified comparative fault rule, the plaintiff's $10,000 in total damages award would be reduced by 20%, or $2,000. The defendant would be required to pay $8,000, in proportion to their 80% responsibility for the plaintiff's injuries.

Comparative Negligence and Insurance Claims

The comparative negligence rule only applies when a judge or jury has to calculate the amount of damages to award the plaintiff in a lawsuit. Insurance adjusters aren't required to apply the rule when handling an injury-related insurance claim. But the amount of any settlement will be heavily influenced by the amount of compensation the injured person could realistically expect to receive if they file a lawsuit. So a person's responsibility for their own injuries, and the resulting reduction of their damages, will certainly come up in insurance settlement negotiations.

Minnesota Is a "No-Fault" Car Insurance State

If you suffer injuries in a car accident, Minnesota's "no-fault" auto insurance system generally requires you to seek compensation through your own car insurance coverage. This is the case even if the other driver is obviously responsible for the accident.

An accident victim can only step outside the no-fault system and file a personal injury lawsuit if they have:

  • at least $4,000 in reasonable medical expenses, or
  • particularly severe injuries, including permanent disfigurement or at least 60 days of disability.

Compensation through auto insurance does not cover non-economic losses like pain and suffering. But if you've been badly injured and are entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit, you will be able to seek these additional damages.

(Minn. Stat. § 65B.51 (2023).)

Minnesota Dog Owners Face "Strict Liability" for Injuries Caused by Their Pets

Minnesota has special rules for lawsuits involving injuries caused by dogs. In general, Minnesota's dog-bite laws make an owner strictly liable if their pet hurts someone. "Strict liability" in dog-bite cases means that a victim can recover damages even if the owner wasn't being careless, and even if the owner had no reason to think that their pet might be dangerous.

Even under Minnesota's strict liability rule, though, an owner won't be held responsible if the injured person provoked the animal, or was trespassing at the time of their injury.

(Minn. Stat. § 347.22 (2023)

Minnesota Does Not Place Caps on Personal Injury Damages

Some states put limits (also known as "caps") on the amount of compensation an injured person can receive for certain types of losses. In particular, there are often caps on compensation for non-economic damages ("pain and suffering").

Minnesota has no such caps. It's rare for a personal injury lawsuit to progress all the way to a verdict. But, if it does, the amount of any award will be decided by the judge or jury, with no limit imposed by state law. Keep in mind, though, that courts still refer to guidelines for determining damages in personal injury cases. If an award seems arbitrary or inappropriately high, the defendant can appeal and may succeed in getting the award reduced.

Next Steps in Your Minnesota Personal Injury Case

If you have a relatively straightforward claim, and do not have significant injuries or financial losses, it could make sense to handle your own personal injury claim. But if there's more at stake, or if your case involves more complicated legal issues, you'll almost certainly benefit from consulting with an attorney. A Minnesota attorney with experience handling personal injury cases will be able to assess your case and help you decide how to proceed. And, whether you decide to go ahead with a lawsuit or take another approach, a lawyer can represent your interests as you seek fair compensation for your losses.

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