“It depends.” This is a typical response given by a lawyer in response to any question, but there are good reasons for it. For example, when determining how long you have to file a lawsuit, such as a personal injury case, facts matter. Little details, some known to a client and many unknown, can affect how long you have to file a claim and ignoring these facts can lead to the dismissal of your claim.
The general rule in Rhode Island is an injured person has three years to file a lawsuit in court from when the claim accrues (see R.I.G.L. § 9-1-14), but there are numerous exceptions to that general rule. If the defendant is the federal government, you likely have two years to file suit. If the defendant is a public entity, you may have to file a complaint with the government entity before filing a lawsuit in court. The accurate answer is it depends on a host of factors such as where it occurred, when it occurred, who suffered the injury, and who caused the injury. An examination of these factors illustrates the point.
- Where the personal injury occurred? What city, town, or state? Did the injury occur on public or private land? A state or local road? Did it occur on property of the federal government? The answer to these questions can affect the timing and process to assert your personal injury If the injury occurred outside Rhode Island, you have to consider what other state’s statute of limitations could apply and how long you have to file a claim in that state.
- When did the personal injury occur? To know when the personal injury occurred appears straightforward but may be complicated depending on the type of claim. In a motor vehicle accident claim, you can generally rely upon the injury occurring at the time of the accident. But in a medical malpractice case alleging a failure to diagnose a condition (i.e. cancer), the personal injury may not occur until the date you are diagnosed with cancer even though the act of malpractice occurred years earlier.
- Who suffered the personal injury? Was the injury to yourself or to your spouse, to a child or to a parent? If a minor suffered the injury, the statute of limitations on the minor’s injury claim may be very different than the statute of limitations for an adult’s injury claim. The statute of limitations on a minor’s claim may be tolled until that minor reaches 18 years of age at which time the three year statute of limitations could begin.
- Who caused the personal injury to occur? Similar to the “where” factor, who caused the injury may dictate how long you have to file the claim. Was the person(s) employed by the federal, state or local government? Was he or she privately employed? If you were harmed by a product, then who manufactured it, distributed it, sold it, and used it when causing the injury? Depending on which company in the chain of sale you want to sue, it is possible that the statute of limitations for your personal injury could vary state by state (or even by country).
These factors are necessary to consider, but by no means exhaustive on the question of how long you have to file your personal injury claim in Rhode Island. Every injury presents a unique set of facts to consider. How long you have to file your personal injury claim is dependent on knowing and analyzing those facts.
In the unfortunate event that you or a loved one suffers an injury, feel free to contact the attorneys at Decof, Decof & Barry, P.C. to discuss your case. They have decades of experience reaching successful results for injured persons and their families in a broad range of personal injury cases.