In Missouri, when 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 the state's civil court system. If so, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for this type of case. (For those not fluent in "legalese," 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 Missouri'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 Missouri personal injury statute of limitations is spelled out at Missouri Code section 516.120, and it sets a five-year deadline for the filing of all lawsuits seeking a legal remedy for an "injury to the person." That includes cases driven by the liability principle of "negligence" (which applies to claims filed after most car accidents, slip and fall incidents, and other mishaps) or intentional tort (which applies to civil cases filed over assault and other intentional conduct).
Bottom line: If another person's careless or intentional act has caused you injury, and you want to ask a Missouri court for a civil remedy (damages) for your losses, you have five years to get the initial documentation (the "complaint" and other required paperwork) filed in court, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the underlying accident.
If more than five 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 the case. And unless a rare exception entitles you to extra time (more details on these exceptions later), the court will grant the dismissal.
Missouri's personal injury statute of limitations is obviously pivotal if you want to take your injury case to court through 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. Five years is a long time, but if you've allowed it to pass without getting your lawsuit filed, and the other side knows it, you'll have lost all your negotiating leverage.
Missouri 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.
For example, if the injured person is under the age of 21 or is mentally incapacitated at the time the accident occurs, he or she will have the full five years to bring the personal injury lawsuit once this period of "legal disability" ends (meaning once the injured person turns 21 or is declared competent), according to Missouri Revised Statutes section 516.170.
If the person responsible for the plaintiff's injuries (the defendant) is a resident of the state of Missouri, but he or she leaves the state some time after the underlying accident, and before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of absence probably won't be counted as part of the five-year filing period (the "clock" won't run during this time, in other words). (Missouri Revised Statutes section 516.200.)
If you have questions about how the Missouri 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 Missouri personal injury attorney.