Normally, we don't know when our time is up. But, the law does afford us some degree of certainty.
When someone is injured in an accident or otherwise suffers damage or loss, there is a limited period of time within which a lawsuit may brought. These timeframes (known as "statutes of limitations") are stringently enforced and vary based on the nature of the claim.
By way of example, in New York State, you have only one (1) year to bring a claim for "assault, battery, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, libel, and slander." (CPLR section 215) With certain exceptions, an action based on "medical, dental or podiatric malpractice" must be commenced within two years and six months. (CPLR section 214-a). A person typically has three (3) years from an injury's incurrence or discovery to seek judicial intervention. (CPLR section 214). A residential rent-overcharge complaint must be filed within four (4) years of the alleged overcharge. (CPLR section 213-a) And, you have six (6) years to sue for breach of contract. [Be forewarned:This list is not exhaustive. Readers are strongly encouraged to consult with counsel to determine if the governing time parameters (and any applicable exceptions) apply to the facts of their particular dispute.]
If relief is not timely sought, the claim may be forever lost or time-barred. As a result, the people who are alleged to have caused the injury or loss (and who are defendants in a lawsuit) will frequently argue that the case should have been brought earlier, thereby relieving them of liability.
This kind of bandy occurred in Barrell v. Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc, wherein the plaintiffs claimed to have been injured as a result of the negligent installation of a hot-water hose connected to a washing machine installed in the plaintiffs' apartment unit. The plumbing company responded by asserting that since the work had been performed over three years prior to the incident, the case was barred by the governing three-year statute of limitations. In response to motion practice, the Queens County Supreme Court refused to strike the plumbing company's defense. On appeal, the Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed noting that the clock had started to tick from the date of the injury, not from when the work had been performed.
As the Appellate Division observed:
As a general rule "a cause of action for personal injuries, whether sounding in negligence, malpractice, or products liability, accrues at the time of injury"..."Stated another way, accrual occurs when the claim becomes enforceable, i.e., when all elements of the tort can be truthfully alleged in a complaint"...The plaintiffs seek to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by the injured plaintiff when a hose supplying hot water to a washing machine in the plaintiffs' apartment burst. Contrary to the conclusion reached by the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs' claim against the defendant plumbing company for negligent installation of the washing machine and attendant plumbing accrued on the date the injury was sustained, and not on the date the work was performed...Accordingly, the plaintiffs' claim against the plumbing company to recover damages based on negligence is not barred by the applicable three-year statute of limitations (see CPLR 214).
No point plumbing any further into this case.
For a copy of the Appellate Division's decision in Barrell v. Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc., please click on the following link: