After a car accident, a slip-and-fall, or any other incident in which someone else's conduct causes you harm in Oregon, 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 Oregon'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 Oregon personal injury lawsuits can be found at Oregon Revised Statutes section 12.110, which says: "An action for assault, battery, false imprisonment, or for any injury to the person or rights of another...shall be commenced within two years."
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 Oregon, 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.
Oregon'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 Oregon's two-year statute of limitations "clock," effectively extending the filing deadline.
First off, if at the time of the underlying accident, the injured person is under the age of 18 or "has a disabling mental condition that bars the person from comprehending rights that the person is otherwise bound to know," the injured person will have extra time to file the personal injury lawsuit once this period of "legal disability" ends (meaning once the injured person turns 18 or is declared competent), according to Oregon Revised Statutes section 12.160. But the filing period won't be extended for more than five years, or for more than one year after the disability ends, whichever comes first.
Next, under Oregon Revised Statutes section 12.150, if the defendant departs from the state of Oregon at any point after the underlying accident, but before the lawsuit can be filed, and takes up residence in another state, or if the defendant takes steps to conceal him or herself within the state, the period of absence/concealment probably won't be counted as part of the one-year period (the statute of limitations "clock" will be paused during this time, in other words).
If you have questions about how the Oregon 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 Oregon personal injury attorney.