What are Statutes of Limitations?

Statutes of Limitations are the deadlines for bringing claims, and must be observed unless there are circumstances extending or “tolling” the deadline. The failure to file a claim in time bars the claim. The following should not be relied upon and are provided as examples. Each situation depends upon the facts and you should consult an attorney as early as possible. It is best to consult and retain an attorney early to leave time for an investigation of the claims and file in good time.

Various claims have different deadlines for bringing a claim in court or in the agency where the claim may have to be filed first. The deadline runs from the time the claim or cause of action “accrues.” Time of accrual generally means the earliest time from which the person having the claim “knew or should have known” that he or she had a claim. In one case involving a statute of limitations for breach of contract (6 years), fraud (3 years) and violations of Ch. 93A (the consumer Protection Act, 4 years), the Court stated that “We conclude that the triggering event cannot be pinpointed as matter of law, but poses a question of fact as to when a reasonable policy holder should have realized from the available information that the policy was not performing as allegedly promised and that the so-called vanishing premiums were a fiction. ‘In most instances, the question when a plaintiff knew or should have known of its cause of action is one of fact that will be decided by the trier of fact.’”

You must file claims for employment discrimination with the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination within 300 days of the act of discrimination. Under certain circumstances, the doctrine of continuing violations extends the deadline. Most tort claims such as fraud, personal injuries such as medical or legal malpractice, assault, injuries caused by a fall or car accident, libel or defamation have a deadline of 3 years. Bring claims for breach of contract within 6 years unless the contract has some other term; file Consumer Protection Act claims within 4 years of the unfair and/or deceptive act; and bring claims against the executor of an estate within a year of the date of death of the decedent. There are some very short appeal periods. Arbitration or grievance clauses may shorten other deadlines to a matter of days. Know your Employee Handbook or other contracts.

An appeal from an Order of Condition of a local Conservation Commission under the Wetlands Protection Act to the Department of Environmental Protection must be filed within 10 business days of the date of the order. An appeal from a decision of a City or Town’s Zoning Board of Appeal or other permit-granting authority regarding a variance or special permit must be appealed within 21 days.

There are circumstances that suspend or toll the statute of limitations.  Dishonest or fraudulent concealment of the right to sue by the wrongdoer will suspend the deadline an amount of time equal to the period of concealment. Disability of the victim or the victim being underage will extend the deadline until that status ends. Other circumstances influence the determination such as lack of circumstances for discovery of the right to sue. Thus, whenever a question arises of whether the deadline has passed, the person for whom the correct answer is important should consult a knowledgeable lawyer. Lawsuits may be thrown out because of the statute of limitations. It should never be assumed that circumstances cannot be found that may excuse the missing of a deadline.