They say that “Time and tide wait for no man,” and this saying
certainly applies to personal injury claims. In the context of a personal
injury action, as soon as the accident occurs, a legislatively-created
clock begins to run, giving plaintiffs a time frame with which to bring
an action. That time frame is called the statute of limitations. The statute
of limitations varies depending on the type of action (i.e. criminal,
contract, personal injury) and the jurisdiction. For purposes of a Pennsylvania
personal injury action, the statute of limitations is two years. There
are exceptions (such as a different time limitation for a minor’s
case) but generally, a plaintiff must either resolve his claim with a
defendant prior to the expiration of the two-year statute or take the
appropriate action to avoid being time-barred.
What should a plaintiff do to avoid being barred by the statute of limitations? First and foremost, a plaintiff should figure out when his statute will
expire and be proactive in calling an attorney if the claim warrants one. At
Metzger Wickersham, the investigation into a case starts as soon as a client walks through
our doors. The correct defendant must be located, witnesses must be interviewed,
and photographs must be taken. A plaintiff who pursues legal action right
away after an accident has the luxury of having more time to think before
making case-changing decisions without the pressure of the statute of
limitations narrowing those choices.
What happens if a claim isn’t settled before two years? In Pennsylvania, a plaintiff may file a writ of summons with a county’s
Prothonotary. After the defendant is properly served with the writ, usually
by a Pennsylvania sheriff, the statute of limitations is considered to
be “tolled.” Once service is confirmed, then the statute of
limitations is no longer a concern.
Why is there a statute of limitations at all? Mostly, to ensure fairness to the defendant. As time passes, witness memories
fade and essential items for evidence may disappear. By imposing a time
limitation, the courts are giving defendants the opportunity to investigate
the circumstances associated with a plaintiff’s claim to form a
defense. This opportunity may be lost if a plaintiff brings a claim many
years after an accident occurs.
When deciding to take legal action against a negligent defendant, we recommend
that you consult with an attorney as soon as possible to discuss what
kind of steps are needed to pursue a personal injury claim.