Answer: As always, it depends! There are a number of factors that will determine how long you have to assert your rights or make a personal injury or wrongful death claim. Let’s go through them:
When did your injury occur? It may sound obvious, but let’s start with when you were injured or the death occurred. How long you have to bring a legal claim depends on when you became aware of the injury or death and its cause. There is a legal principle called the ‘discovery rule’ which says that the time for you to file your claim does not (necessarily) begin to run until you ‘know’ about the claim. ‘Knowing’ is a matter of understanding that you have been injured and that others may be responsible. See Williams v. Howard. This rule can be difficult to apply; I recommend consulting an attorney if your claim appears to be too old to assert or if you have questions about how it applies. Otherwise, the ‘when’ occurs at the time you knew or should have known of the injury and the cause of the injury.
What are your claims? How long you have to file or assert a claim depends on the type of claim you are asserting. This time limit is called the ‘statute of limitations’ and is governed by a number of Utah statutes and cases interpreting those statutes. Personal injury claims generally must be filed in court no later than four years from the date of the injury. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-2-307. This applies to personal injuries arising out of car accidents, slip and fall, etc. Here, however, you need to be careful. You can suffer the same injury in a car accident as when you are injured on someone’s property. The claims are different even though the injuries are the same. Many (but not all) civil statutes of limitation are found in Utah Code § 78B-2-102 to § 78B-2-117. Again, if you are worried about the timing of your claim, call an attorney. Do not risk missing the time to file your claim. In Utah, the courts will apply the timing rules as written regardless of how bad your injuries or how ‘righteous’ your excuses for not filing on time.
Here are a few of the claim-specific time limits:
- Property damage arising out of an auto accident – 3 years from accident. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-2-305
- Medical malpractice – 2 years from the date of injury but no longer than 4 years. Utah Code § 78B-3-404 (note that the ‘discovery rule’ often applies here)
- Except that you have only 1 year for a claim related to medical malpractice for leaving a foreign object in your body during surgery (such as a clamp, sponge, or other instrument)
- Wrongful death claim – 2 years from death Utah Code Ann. § 78B-2-304(2)
- Survival action – if a person dies and they have a claim for their injuries that survives their death, their heirs/estate must bring the claim within 1 year from the date of their death – Utah Code Ann. § 78B-2-105
- Insurance claims related to your auto accident are 3 years from the date of rejection by the insurance company and/or date of loss/injury, Utah Code Ann. § 31A-21-313:
- PIP Benefits
- Insurance claim against your insurance company
- Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage Claim
- Defective product liability – 2 years Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-706
- Federal government – The Federal Tort Claims Act requires you to bring your personal injury claim against the federal government within 2 years after your claim accrues. 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b)
- Defamation (libel/slander), false imprisonment, and seduction – 1 year from the date the act occurs. Utah Code § 78B-2-302
- Asbestos claim – 3 years within three years from the date when you could have discovered your asbestos-related injury. See Utah Code § 78B-2-117.
Who is the responsible party? Who caused your injuries makes a difference when you must bring your claim. If a governmental entity (city, county, state, etc.) is responsible, you have a very short time to file your claim. Do not wait or delay. Such claims are often governed by the Governmental Immunity Act. The rules involving the Governmental Immunity Act are complex and have very specific requirements. I do not recommend that you attempt to comply with these requirements on your own. See Utah Code Ann. § 63G-7-401
What is the age or status of the injured person? The time limitations for the claims of a minor (under age 18) start to run when they turn 18. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-2-108. If the injured person is “mentally incompetent without a legal guardian,” the limitations do not start to run until the person has a guardian appointed. Once appointed, the regular statutes of limitation apply.
Where did the injury or death occur? Your injury or wrongful death claim will be governed by the state in which the injury or death occurred. Be careful here: every state has different statutes that govern when claims must be filed. If you were injured in Utah, get a Utah personal injury attorney. Likewise, if you were injured in Colorado, find a Colorado attorney. You may, however, find it more convenient to hire a Utah attorney who will then associate with an attorney in the state in which you were injured. I have done this and it works well. It allows you to meet with your attorney without having to go back to the state in which you were injured.
Call Me. You likely have more questions than this post or the other information on this website can provide. Every situation is unique. If you have been injured, feel free to reach out to me to discuss your circumstances further. You cannot make a good decision if you do not get competent advice from a qualified, experienced attorney. You need to protect yourself and your loved-ones from the often devastating effects of permanent injury or death. You do this by pursuing what you are entitled to. Call me.