The short answer is no. Although it is a sad truth that some people will lose their right to file a lawsuit in court because they waited too long to take legal action; no one should just assume that the statute of limitations has expired on their claim without talking to a lawyer. There are many reasons – legally and factually – that a claim may survive even if it initially appears that the statute of limitations expired.
It is often thought that the statute of limitations is always three years. It is not. There are many different statutes of limitations, and it depends on the type of lawsuit that will be filed. For instance, in Rhode Island, a person has four years to sue when there has been a breach of contract over the sale of certain goods, one year to sue for defamation, two years to file a worker’s compensation claim, etc. For personal injury actions, the general rule is that the statute of limitations expires three years from the date that the injury occurred. However, there are many exceptions to that general rule. Some of these exceptions are lawsuits involving minors/children, wrongful death, and an injury that was not known or discoverable at the time it happened.
Examples that often receive the attention of the media are cases involving assault and/or child abuse. These types of injuries are often not sued upon for many years after the abuse and are ripe for dismissal on statute of limitations grounds. The recent revelation of alleged abuse at St. George’s School in Middletown is just one example. Click here to read a related Providence Journal article, and here for a Boston Globe article.
However, even these cases, with the help of a competent lawyer, can survive dismissal in the courts. Furthermore, in some states, the statutes of limitations on sexual assaults have been legislatively extended, as explained in this article.
The bottom line is that if you are considering bringing a legal claim and you are worried about whether the statute of limitations has expired, you should speak with a lawyer. At Decof, Decof & Barry, we routinely answer these types of questions for our clients.