What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Wisconsin

Here's how Wisconsin's personal injury statute of limitations works, and why it's critical to abide by the filing deadline set by this law.

In Wisconsin, 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 Wisconsin'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.

Three Years is the Standard Time Limit for Wisconsin Personal Injury Lawsuits

The Wisconsin personal injury statute of limitations is spelled out at Wisconsin Statutes section 893.54, and it sets a three-year deadline for the filing of any "action to recover damages for injuries to the person." So, whether a civil case is 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), this is the statute of limitations that applies.

Bottom line: When another person's careless or intentional act causes you injury in Wisconsin, and you want to ask the state's civil court system for a remedy (damages) for your losses, you have three 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.

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If more than three 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.

Wisconsin'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 three-year deadline has passed, you'll have lost all your negotiating leverage, and in that situation, "I'll see you in court" becomes an empty threat.

Exceptions to the Wisconsin Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

Wisconsin 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, at the time of the underlying accident, the injured person is under 18 years of age or "mentally ill," they will be entitled to two years to get their personal injury lawsuit filed once the disability is removed (meaning they reach the age of 18 or have their mental competence restored). But note that the where the injured person is subject to mental illness, the filing deadline won't be extended more than five years after the underlying accident (Wisconsin Statutes section 893.16.)
  • If the person responsible for the plaintiff's injuries (the defendant) "departs from and resides outside of" the state some time after the underlying accident, but before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of absence probably won't be counted as part of the three-year filing period (the "clock" won't run during this time, in other words). (Wisconsin Statutes section 893.19.)

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

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