After a car accident, a slip-and-fall, or any other incident in which someone else's conduct causes you harm in Oklahoma, 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 Oklahoma'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 Oklahoma personal injury lawsuits can be found at Oklahoma Statutes section 12-95, which gives you two years to ask the state courts for a civil remedy for any injury.
So, if you want to turn to the state's civil court system for compensation (damages) after an injury caused by someone else in Oklahoma, 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). And for purposes of this two-year lawsuit filing deadline, the "clock" starts running on the date of the underlying accident or incident.
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 unless a rare exception entitles you to extra time (we'll discuss a few of these exceptions later), the court will grant the dismissal.
Oklahoma'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 Oklahoma's two-year statute of limitations "clock," effectively extending the filing deadline.
For example, special rules usually apply if, at the time of the underlying accident, the injured person is under any "legal disability." That could mean he or she is a minor (under the age of 18 in Oklahoma), or it could mean the injured person is incapacitated in the eyes of the law (having been declared mentally incompetent or not "of sound mind," by a court or other authority, for example).
If the injured person is under a legal disability, once the period of disability ends -- meaning the person turns 18, or is declared legally competent, sticking with the above examples -- he or she will have one year to get the lawsuit filed, according to Oklahoma Statutes section 12-96.
Another potential extension to the statute of limitations deadline: When the defendant (the person who is alleged to have caused the injury) "leaves the state or conceals himself" in the state before a lawsuit can be filed, the period of absence or concealment probably won't be counted as part of the time limit for filing suit. This rule can be found at Oklahoma Statutes section 12-98.
If you have questions about how the Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma personal injury attorney.