Contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible after an injury causing event. The attorney can ensure that the right steps are taken, in the right order, for your protection.
When someone else causes you an injury, you cannot wait long to take action. The law creates time limits within which claims either must be settled or brought to court. This deadline is called the statute of limitations (SOL). The statute of limitations (SOL) is the maximum amount of time you have to initiate legal proceedings following an injury. Simply put, your case either must be settled or a lawsuit filed before the statute of limitations is reached or “runs out.” If the SOL expires, you will be prevented from receiving any compensation for your injuries—your insurance claims will be denied and any lawsuit you file will be dismissed.
When hiring an attorney many clients think that the attorney will immediately file a lawsuit and “go to court.” In the majority of cases this is not necessary. Over 90% of our cases settle without filing a lawsuit. As our clients’ advocates, we are able to negotiate with insurance companies to ensure medical cost are covered and our client receives the compensation they deserve. If a case does not settle before the statute of limitations expires, either because the insurance company fails to make reasonable offers or the client’s injuries are still evolving, then we need to go to court.
Contacting a lawyer soon after the injury causing event ensures your claims are raised in a timely manner, when evidence is still available and memories are still fresh. This protects both the injury victim and wrongdoer by ensuring claims are decided on their merits and not because one side was prevented from investigating. Waiting until the last minute to contact a lawyer can significantly and negatively impact on the success of your claim.
We receive many calls from potential clients with seemingly good claims, but they waited too long before contacting us and their statute of limitations passed. The most common excuses we hear is the injury victim was trying to recover physically, financially, and emotionally; or that they were “talking with” the insurance company on their own. They did not give thought to the fact that a potential deadline existed. In those cases, usually, the potential client is SOL.
What Do You Need To Know?
Statute of limitations vary by state and case type.
In Arizona, personal injury cases are a type of civil action. Generally, the time limits for civil actions based on case type are:
- 1 year – Malicious prosecution; false imprisonment; libel or slander; breach of employment contract; wrongful termination; liability created by statute (ARS § 12-541);
- 2 years – Personal injury (e.g., car accident, truck accident, motorcycle accident, dog bite, slip and fall, premises liability, medical malpractice); injury when death ensues (e.g., wrongful death); damage to property; conversion of property; product liability (ARS § 12-542);
- 3 years – Uninsured or Underinsured motorist claim (ARS § 12-555).
So, most personal injury claims based on negligence have a two-year statute of limitations. However, there are special circumstances that can significantly shorten the statute of limitations period. Knowing what those special circumstances are is vital to protecting your legal rights and ensuring you get paid for your injuries.
- Government Entity: 180 Days
This might be the single most important special circumstance shortening your statute of limitations.
When your injury was caused by a public entity (e.g., the State of Arizona, City, County, school, or government health facility) or a public employee of one (e.g., police officer, city worker, medical student/resident, school official, or teacher), then you must serve a Notice of Claim on the appropriate entity(-ies) within 180 days after the cause of action accrues, which is usually the date of injury.
The chief purpose of ARS § 12-821.01 is “to give the government notice of potential liability, an opportunity to investigate claims, the chance to avoid costly litigation through settlement, and assistance in budgeting.” Lee v. State, 218 Ariz. 235, ¶ 17 (2008). However, injury lawyers know the statute is really to provide immunity to the government because many injury victims miss the notice of claim deadline.
Also, after serving the Notice of Claim and allowing sixty days to respond, a lawsuit must be filed within one year of the date the claim accrues.
These are strict deadlines with very few exceptions.
Due to these short time frames, it is vital that you move quickly and precisely to avoid your claim being rejected and banned from proceeding further.
- Dog Bites: 1-Year Strict Liability; 2-years Negligence
If you are the victim of a dog bite, you want to pursue a dog bite claim within the first year.
Arizona is a strict liability state for dog bites. In the first year, the dog owner is subject to “strict liability” if you were bit by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the dog owner. This means the dog owner can be held liable for injuries and damages regardless of the owner’s negligence and if the owner did not know the dog would bite. This is different from states that use the “one-bite rule,” which states that the owner is only liable if the dog has bitten before or the owner knew the dog was aggressive. In Arizona, no such policy exists, and the dog owner can be held liable no matter how many times the dog has bitten someone.
Proving a strict liability dog bite claim is fairly easy, and there are very few defenses (e.g., provocation and trespassing).
If you fail to settle your dog bite claim or file a lawsuit within one year of the bite, the claim transitions to a normal negligence case. Like other personal injury claims, your deadline to file a negligence claim against the dog owner expires two years after the bite. The elements you must prove increase, as do the potential defenses.
- Dram Shop: 1 Year
Victims of drunk driving or DUI accidents may have a valid claim against the entity responsible for the driver’s intoxication. This is called a dram shop claim. If they do, they need to act within a year of the crash.
Arizona has criminal statutes that punish individuals who operate motor vehicles while impaired. Arizona also has civil statutes to compensate injury victims of drunk driving and punish the businesses that overserved the driver. In some cases, injuries are caused by a person leaving a commercial establishment that serves alcohol. If that person drives intoxicated and causes a crash, the establishment that served the driver could be liable for injuries and damages. Thus, the injury victim makes two claims: one against the drunk driver and one against the establishment.
ARS § 4-311 provides for liability of a licensee—think bar, night club, restaurant, liquor store—who sold spirituous liquor either to a purchaser who was obviously intoxicated or under the legal drinking age (without requesting identification with proof of age or with knowledge that the person was under the legal drinking age). The statute of limitation on a dram shop claim is 1 year from the date of the incident. See Andrews, ex rel. Woodard v. Eddie’s Place, 199 Ariz. 240 (App. 2000). Claims under common law negligence, as opposed to dram shop claims pursuant to the statute, can be brought within two years. Id. However, like with dog bites, there are significant benefits to adhering to the one year deadline.
These time limits start to run when the injury victim knows or with reasonable diligence should know the facts underlying the cause. In most cases, the time limit starts to run on the date of injury.
In legal terms, a cause of action accrues and the statute of limitations begins to run at the time an injury victim knew or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known of another’s injurious conduct. Wyckoff v. Mogollon Health Alliance, 232 Ariz. 588, 591, ¶ 9 (App. 2013). Although an injury victim need not know all the facts to trigger accrual, he or she “must at least possess a minimum requisite of knowledge sufficient to identify that a wrong occurred and caused injury.” Walk v. Ring, 202 Ariz. 310, 316, ¶ 22 (2002) (quoting Doe v. Roe, 191 Ariz. 313, 323, ¶ 32 (1998)). For a claim to accrue, an injury victim must have “reason to connect the ‘what’ to a particular ‘who’ in such a way that a reasonable person would be on notice to investigate whether the injury might result from fault.” Id. (citing Doe). An injury victim is not required to know the full extent of an injury before the statutory period begins to run. See Sato v. Van Denburgh, 123 Ariz. 225, 227 (1979).
The “discovery rule” delays the accrual of a claim when “[t]he injury or the act causing the injury, or both, have been difficult for the plaintiff to detect.” Doe, 191 Ariz. at 330, ¶ 54 (quoting Gust, Rosenfeld & Henderson v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 182 Ariz. 586, 589 (1995)). The discovery rule, however, does not allow an injury victim to hide behind his or her ignorance when reasonable investigation would have alerted him or her to the claim; instead, the injury victim must affirmatively and timely investigate if any basis exists for legal action. Elm Ret. Ctr., LP v. Callaway, 226 Ariz. 287, 290, ¶ 12 (App. 2010). In other words, if you are injured in an event, contact a lawyer immediately to investigate and protect your legal rights.
On special circumstance that is not discussed here, because of the complexities, involves claims against Native American Indian Tribes and their members. Each tribe has its own set of rules, laws, and deadlines. So if you think your claim involves a Tribe or Tribal member, contact a lawyer authorized to practice law with the specific tribe.
What Else Do You Need To Know?
One other situation with special circumstances affecting deadlines that we want to address are claims involving minors (i.e., children under the age of 18).
- Minors: Two Years from the Minor’s 18th Birthday
Minors have the same deadlines to either settle their claim or file a lawsuit as adults; however, their SOL does not begin to run until they turn 18 years of age. That does not mean the parent or guardian should delay contacting a lawyer. Doing so could result in lost evidence, failed memories, and a whole host of problems.
What Should You Do?
You should contact an experienced personal injury attorney soon after the event. Failing to settle a claim or file a lawsuit within the prescribed time can prevent you from pursuing a claim for compensation. Waiting until you find yourself in the middle of a personal injury claim can be overwhelming—injuries, hospital bills, rental cars, dealing with body shops, police reports, and apathetic adjusters can make you lose track of time and deadlines. Hiring an experience attorney early can help control the chaos and ensure deadlines are not missed.
Gage Mathers attorneys have helped injured Arizonans since 1964. They’ve helped thousands of injury victims obtain over $250 million dollars. Beyond the results, they take the time to explain each step of the process, answer all the client’s questions, and work to relieve some of the worry and burden. This relationship enables maximum recovery. Our results and personalized approach is why some clients make Gage Mathers their injury attorneys and why past clients refer friends and family. If you find yourself in need of a personal injury attorney or have any questions, call Gage Mathers.