By: Kelly R. Ledbetter
Let’s say you signed a contract to invest in a business, but the business was never launched and now they refuse to return your money. Can you sue? It all depends on how long it’s been.
The statute of limitations is the time limit you have to file a lawsuit. This time limit varies widely both among states and among reasons for filing (“causes of action” or claims). For instance, in Texas, the statute of limitations for breach of written contracts is four years, whereas the statute of limitations for property damage is only two years. In another state, those numbers will probably be completely different. Some causes of action even have periods as short as a one-year limitation. And of course, there can be a lot of caveats and exceptions—like claims that require notice to the defendant or to a government agency, or a “timeout” on the statute of limitations because the injury was undiscoverable.
Information about statutes of limitations in Texas can be found in Chapter 16 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, available through the Texas Constitution and Statutes home page. Here’s an example of causes of action that have a four-year statute of limitations:
FOUR-YEAR LIMITATIONS PERIOD. (a) A person must bring suit on the following actions not later than four years after the day the cause of action accrues: (1) specific performance of a contract for the conveyance of real property; (2) penalty or damages on the penal clause of a bond to convey real property; (3) debt; (4) fraud; or (5) breach of fiduciary duty. (b) A person must bring suit on the bond of an executor, administrator, or guardian not later than four years after the day of the death, resignation, removal, or discharge of the executor, administrator, or guardian. (c) A person must bring suit against his partner for a settlement of partnership accounts, and must bring an action on an open or stated account, or on a mutual and current account concerning the trade of merchandise between merchants or their agents or factors, not later than four years after the day that the cause of action accrues. For purposes of this subsection, the cause of action accrues on the day that the dealings in which the parties were interested together cease.
Confusing? A bit. This is why consulting an attorney even before you’re certain whether you have a case is important. Someone trained in the law, who is familiar with all the ins and outs of the statutes of limitations in your state, will readily be able to say whether your cause of action may has already expired.
Below are some helpful links with more information about statutes of limitations. These sites provide helpful information, but they have not been verified and they cannot take the place of the legal advice you can receive only from an attorney.
Read a full definition of “statute of limitations” here.
NOLO, a free legal information website, offers a handy chart of states, causes of action, and statutes of limitations.
Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute (LII) has a narrative example of a statute of limitations.
Wikipedia contains an overview and further links to statutes of limitations and related topics.
Remember folks, at the end of the day there’s no substitute for having a lawyer of your own.
And as always, our blog postings are not legal advice, nor do they constitute an attorney-client relationship!