What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Virginia?

Here's how the Virginia statute of limitations for personal injury cases works, and why failing to get your lawsuit filed under the deadline will likely spell doom for your case.

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

If 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 Virginia's civil courts. 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 Virginia'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 Virginia Personal Injury Lawsuits

The Virginia personal injury statute of limitations is spelled out at Virginia Code section 8.01-243(A), which says: "Every action for personal injuries, whatever the theory of recovery...shall be brought within two years after the cause of action accrues."

In plain English, this law sets a two-year deadline for the filing of 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, when another person's careless or intentional act causes you injury, and you want to ask Virginia'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, starting from the date of the underlying accident (that's when "the cause of action accrues" for purposes of the filing deadline).

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.

Virginia'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 Virginia Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

Virginia 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, at the time of the underlying accident, is under 18 years of age or is "incapacitated", then once the person turns 18 or re-gains the proper mental capacity, he or she will be entitled to the full two years to get their personal injury lawsuit filed. Note that if an incapacitated person's legal interests are represented by a conservator or guardian, that representative will usually be entitled to at least one year after his or her appointment to file the personal injury lawsuit. (Virginia Code section 8.01-229(A).)
  • If the person who is allegedly responsible for the plaintiff's injuries obstructs the filing of the personal injury lawsuit by filing for bankruptcy, or if he or she uses any other "direct or indirect means" to obstruct the filing of the personal injury lawsuit, then the time of obstruction probably won't be counted towards the two years. "Obstruction" could include living under a false name, leaving the state in an effort to avoid being "served" with the lawsuit, and other attempts to prevent or hinder the commencement of a legal action. (Virginia Code section 8.01-229(D).)

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

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