When you’ve suffered injury because of someone else’s wrongful act, whether it’s the failure to perform according to the terms of a contract, or a lawsuit for injuries sustained in an accident, you have to file a claim for damages within a specific period of time or it will be barred. This rule, known as the statute of limitations, serves a number of purposes. It ensures that evidence doesn’t get lost and that witnesses don’t forget what they saw or heard. It also prevents a person from living for a long period of time with a potential claim hanging over his or her head.
The statute of limitations can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and are typically different for various types of lawsuits. In New Jersey, the statute of limitations for personal injury—the time in which you must file your complaint— is “two years after the cause of any such action shall have accrued.” The statute covers cases involving injury and/or death, although the clock for filing a claim for a wrongful death does not start until the actual date of death.
There are, however, situations where your injury may not be readily apparent, or where symptoms don’t become apparent for months or even years. What happens then?
New Jersey, like many other states, applies the “discovery rule” with respect to when the statute of limitations starts to run on a personal injury claim. Under that rule, the clock does not start to move on the statute of limitations until “the injured party discovers, or by the exercise of reasonable diligence and intelligence should have discovered” the injury. Accordingly, if your injury took some time to develop or was not apparent through reasonable observation, you will have two years from the date that you first became aware of the injury.
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