So what is a statute of limitation?
It’s the deadline by which you must start a lawsuit or lose the right to do so. And, there are different statutes of limitations for different types of claims. For example, if you want to sue for breach of contract in Tennessee, you must generally do so within six years of the other party’s breach. But, if you are suing for breach of a demand promissory note or to enforce a judgment, you get up to ten years. Claims under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act must be brought within one year.
If someone has wrongfully taken possession of your property (called “conversion” in the law), you have three years to sue for that. You also get three years to sue for fraud, or for negligence resulting in property damage (to both real and personal property). If you have a claim against the personal representative of a decedent’s estate, you get seven years after the decedent’s death to bring it. But, if you are going to sue someone for slander, hurry up… you only get six months! Libel, on the other hand, carries a one-year statute.
You also get up to one year to sue for personal injury, medical, legal or accountant malpractice, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. A year may seem like a long time, but many cases require several months to investigate before a suit can be filed, so if you think you may have a case, the sooner you start the investigation process, the better.
When does the clock start ticking?
Generally, when the injury occurs. But, what if you don’t find out that you have been injured until it’s too late? In some situations, you get extra time to bring your case. For example, you might not discover that someone has defrauded you until five years after you have relied on his misrepresentation. Or, you may not know that your doctor committed malpractice until your next operation, two years later, when another surgeon discovers that her predecessor left a sponge inside your abdomen.
The Discovery Rule
In these situations, there is a special “discovery rule” that affords you additional time after you have discovered your injury …. or reasonably should have discovered it. Usually, however, the additional time period allotted is very short, so you should consult an attorney quickly once you have any reason to believe that you have been injured or damaged. As the old adage goes, “He who hesitates is lost.” Be prepared to seek prompt legal advice if you think you may have a case.