What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania?

How the Pennsylvania personal injury statute of limitations works, and why the deadline set by this law can make or break your case.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Whether you've been involved in a slip-and-fall, a traffic accident, or any other incident where someone else's conduct caused you harm, you could be thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania's civil court system. If so, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for this types of case. (In case you're 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 Pennsylvania'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.

Two Years is the Standard Time Limit for Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawsuits

The Pennsylvania personal injury statute of limitations is spelled out at Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 42 section 5524, which sets a two-year filing deadline for "an action to recover damages for injuries to the person or for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another."

This two-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).

So if, after another person's careless or intentional act causes you injury, you want to ask Pennsylvania's courts for a civil remedy (damages) for your losses, you have two years to get the initial documentation (the "complaint" and other required paperwork) filed in court, and the two-year "clock" typically starts on the date of the underlying accident.

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If more than two 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.

Pennsylvania'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 two-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 Pennsylvania Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

Pennsylvania 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. Here are some examples of circumstances that are likely to modify the standard timeline:

  • If the injured person is under the age of 18 (and is not a legally emancipated minor) at the time of the underlying accident or incident that caused the injuries, the two-year "clock" probably won't start running until the injured person turns 18. (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 42 section 5533.)
  • If, at some point after the underlying accident, and before the lawsuit can be filed, the person who allegedly caused the plaintiff's injuries (the defendant) is outside the state of Pennsylvania for more than four months, or conceals him or herself within the state by using a false name within the state, the period of absence/concealment likely won't be counted as part of the two years. (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 42 section 5532.)

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

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