[NEED LEGAL HELP?] Call our 24/7 Helpline: 1-866-723-4855

What is a statute of limitations?

Share this:
Justipedia Staff
Profile Picture of Justipedia Staff

Whether you're facing a legal issue or just seeking information, Justipedia aims to be your most trusted resource for legal information on the Web. With the help of legal professionals across the country, we put the law in plain language to help answer your top legal questions.

Justipedia was founded by Internet veterans Cory Janssen and Mitchell Allen. Janssen founded and grew it one of the largest investing sites on the Web. Allen is an author, speaker and the founder of LeadRival, the leading provider of pay-per-action advertising in consumer legal services. Full Bio


What is a statute of limitations?


The simple answer to this question is that a statute of limitations is the amount of time an individual with legal standing has to file a legal action against a respondent litigant. However, litigation statutes of limitations are not a "one time frame fits all" type of situation. Each state sets different statutes of limitations for specific types of lawsuits, as well as the federal court system, so it is very important to understand the legal standing expiration rules for the particular legal claim.

Criminal Case Statute of Limitations

Criminal acts are not necessarily subject to a limitation statute in many states, depending on the type and level of the charge. Misdemeanors and felonies can carry different limitations for criminal acts, and federal criminal charges are similar, but the statute of limitations for federal criminal charges is typically set at five years.

Federal charges that are punishable by death, involve terrorism or result from aggravated child sexual abuse acts have no time limitations. Criminal cases are often prosecuted according to witness testimony, and evidence can be refuted relatively easily when memories can be contested or when the witness may have been unconvincing. This situational expiration exclusion can also apply in murder cases at both the state and federal level.

Typical Civil Tort Time Limits

Personal injury time limitations vary by state and sometimes vary by the claim classification. While a common standard for a limitation statute is often one year, states such as California have a two-year time limitation for personal injury claimants to file.

Plaintiffs may also be eligible for "tolling" of a lawsuit for an extended period when the injury victim is physically or mentally incapacitated as a result of the accident. This condition also applies to minors when conditions can be documented at a specific time, and medical malpractice claims' time limitations can also be extended in some states when the injury does not manifest readily.

Statutes of Limitation on Debt

Debt claims are subject to different limitation rules. Creditors cannot hold a debtor liable forever, but an attempt to collect can also trigger a bankruptcy filing by the debtor. There are also limitations on collection methods that the court can impose in terms of wage garnishment or relinquishing property.

In turn, an individual who files for bankruptcy protection cannot file bankruptcy again for a period of seven years, as this is effectively using the doctrine of statute limitations in reverse. When administrative statutes of limitations are applied to debt collection cases, it is important to understand when the clock actually began ticking to arrive at an official expiration date.

Government Statutes of Limitation

Claims against the government can be tricky because there is no court for the court system. The government is autonomous and court decisions have a way of being final. Claims against a government agency will always involve filing through the complaint department first to establish documentation. This limitation is often 30 days, especially in personal injury cases, and can also apply to quasi-government agencies.

It is clear that cases needing a statute of limitations ruling from the court can be very complicated and often political, as exampled by Nader vs. DNC (2009), when the D.C. federal district court agreed on the proven merit of Nader's 2004 process violation claim, only to move the applicable limitations from the generally administrative time period of seven years back to just one year.

Time limitation for a lawsuit is the classic use of legal technicality, and it is imperative to have a highly effective and experienced attorney in order to ensure that any statute of limitations is decided in a consistent manner, regardless of the legal situation.

Have a question? Ask Justipedia here.

View all questions from Justipedia.

Connect with us


  • While I encourage people to save 100% down for a home, a mortgage is the one debt that I don't frown upon.

    - Dave Ramsey