Statute of Limitations

The time within which a lawsuit must be filed or a criminal prosecution begun. The deadline can vary, depending on the type of civil case or the crime charged.

Additional Sources

Answers.com

A statute setting a time limit on legal action in certain cases.

Law.com Dictionary

n. a law which sets the maximum period which one can wait before filing a lawsuit, depending on the type of case or claim. The periods vary by state. Federal statutes set the limitations for suits filed in federal courts. If the lawsuit or claim is not filed before the statutory deadline, the right to sue or make a claim is forever dead (barred). The types of cases and statute of limitations periods are broken down among: personal injury from negligence or intentional wrongdoing, property damage from negligence or intentional wrongdoing, breach of an oral contract, breach of a written contract, professional malpractice, libel, slander, fraud, trespass, a claim against a governmental entity (usually a short time), and some other variations. In some instances a statute of limitations can be extended ("tolled") based on delay in discovery of the injury or on reasonable reliance on a trusted person (a fiduciary or confidential adviser who has hidden his/her own misuse of someone else's funds or failure to pay). A minor's right to bring an action for injuries due to negligence is tolled until the minor turns 18 (except for a claim against a governmental agency). There are also statutes of limitations on bringing criminal charges, but homicide generally has no time limitation on prosecution. The limitations (depending on the state) generally range from 1 to 6 years except for in Rhode Island, which uses 10 years for several causes of action. Louisiana has the strictest limitations, cutting off lawsuit rights at one year for almost all types of cases except contracts. California also has short periods, usually one year, with two years for most property damage and oral contracts and four years for written contracts. There are also statutes of limitations on the right to enforce a judgment, ranging from five to 25 years, depending on the state. Some states have special requirements before a lawsuit can be filed, such as a written warning to a physician in a claim of malpractice, making a demand upon a state agency and then waiting for the claim to be denied or ignored for a particular period, first demanding a retraction before filing a libel suit, and other variations. Vermont protects its ski resorts by allowing only one year for filing a lawsuit for injuries suffered in a skiing accident as an exception to that state's three-year statute of limitations for other personal injuries.

Lect Law Library

STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS - Laws setting deadlines for filing lawsuits within a certain time after events occur that are the source of a claim.

These deadlines vary depending on the state, the type of issue and the circumstances of the case. A lawsuit filed after the deadline will be thrown out of court.

In California and Texas, for example, when one person breaches a written contract, the other person has four years to sue; this is called a four-year statute of limitation. A personal injury suit, such as an assault and battery case brought by the victim of domestic violence, must be brought within one year from the date of the injury in California and within two years in Texas.

There are no statutes of limitation for filing a no-fault divorce. Filing a fault divorce, however, usually involves a time limitation; for example, an innocent spouse has only a set period of time after learning of her spouse's adultery (or desertion or cruelty) to file for divorce on this ground. Failure of one spouse to file the fault divorce within the time period may provide the other spouse with a defense to the divorce.

Merriam Webster

A statute assigning a certain time after which rights cannot be enforced by legal action or offenses cannot be punished.

The Free (Legal) Dictionary

A type of federal or state law that restricts the time within which legal proceedings may be brought.

Statutes of limitations, which date back to early Roman Law, are a fundamental part of European and U.S. law. These statutes, which apply to both civil and criminal actions, are designed to prevent fraudulent and stale claims from arising after all evidence has been lost or after the facts have become obscure through the passage of time or the defective memory, death, or disappearance of witnesses.

The statute of limitations is a defense that is ordinarily asserted by the defendant to defeat an action brought against him after the appropriate time has elapsed. Therefore, the defendant must plead the defense before the court upon answering the plaintiff's complaint. If the defendant does not do so, he is regarded as having waived the defense and will not be permitted to use it in any subsequent proceedings.

Statutes of limitations are enacted by the legislature, which may either extend or reduce the time limits, subject to certain restrictions. A court cannot extend the time period unless the statute provides such authority. With respect to civil lawsuits, a statute must afford a reasonable period in which an action can be brought. A statute of limitations is unconstitutional if it immediately curtails an existing remedy or provides so little time that it deprives an individual of a reasonable opportunity to start a lawsuit. Depending upon the state statute, the parties themselves may either shorten or extend the prescribed time period by agreement, such as a provision in a contract.

Wikipedia

A statute of limitations is a statute in a common law legal system that sets forth the maximum time after an event, that legal proceedings based on that event may be initiated. In civil law systems, similar provisions are usually part of the civil code or criminal code and are often known collectively as "periods of prescription" or "prescriptive periods."