Like other legal claims, personal injury lawsuits must be brought within a certain time period. The legal time allowed to file a claim is called the statue of limitations. The law sets a time limitation on the plaintiff’s claims to allow defendants to rest assured that no one will sue them decades later when the evidence has disappeared.
After the statute of limitations period comes to an end, the injured person can no longer file a lawsuit, no matter how severe the injuries are.
The statute of limitations varies from state to state, and depending on the type of personal injury case you are filing. There are a few very narrow exceptions where the court may extend the time for filing a claim, such as minority and incompetency. Since the exceptions are narrow, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as you recognize the injury.
In most cases, the statute begins to run at the time of the injury, or at the time the injury should have been discovered and the nature of the harm should have been known. It is important to note that the delay in discovery must be reasonable. For example, if the patient wants to assert a medical malpractice claim because the doctor left a surgical device in her chest, she will have two years from the date of the injury. However, if the patient did not discover the surgical device in her chest until after she had an x-ray years later, the two year period would not begin until she made the discovery during the x-ray. She had no reason to know that the doctor left anything in her body. As a result, it is not fair to expect her to bring a lawsuit for a personal injury she knew nothing about.
On the other hand, the delay in the discovery must be reasonable. If the woman had been experiencing chest pain and never went to a doctor, the court may find that the statute began running at an earlier time, because the patient had reason to know, or at least reason to suspect that she was injured much sooner.
In Hawaii, the statue of limitations for most personal injuries is two years. Haw. Rev. Stat. Sec. 657.7.