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Does The General Public Know What The Statute Of Limitations Is All About?

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The answer is no. Yet knowing the importance of the statute of limitations is key to protecting your rights in a typical personal injury case.

Here’s an example. I received a call from a woman who had fallen from the bed of a pick-up truck and fractured her elbow. She went to an emergency room where she was examined and X rays were done. The X rays showed an avulsion fracture at the elbow which did not require casting. She was released, but later developed complications, and came under the care of an orthopedic surgeon, who did surgery on the elbow a few months later. Something went wrong with the surgery and she was left with minor nerve damage in her hand.

She hired an attorney to investigate a potential medical malpractice case. That attorney looked into the case and determined the injuries weren’t serious enough to warrant pursuing a medical malpractice case and informed his client as much. The attorney sent her a letter informing her that in Pennsylvania, the two year statute of limitations required her to file suit against any responsible parties for her injuries pertaining to the medical malpractice case, or she would lose her right to do so, and that if she wished to do that she would have to find another lawyer. The problem was the woman was never informed, never knew, or never realized that the same two year statute of limitations that applied to her potential medical malpractice case also applied to the underlying incident that resulted in her fall.

When she called me, twenty six months after her original injury, she told me that she has slipped on the bed of the pick up because there was an oily substance that she had not seen. This was not investigated by the first attorney that she had hired. But by the time she contacted me the two year statute of limitations had expired. If she had contacted me earlier, I explained to her, I would have pursued the case against the owner of the pick-up truck for neglecting to clean the oil from the bed of the truck and not informing her of the slippery substance which ultimately led to her injuries. She however had no idea that the two year statute of limitations applied to her original incident. She was so focused on the potential malpractice case that she lost sight of the possibility of pursuing a case based upon her original fall.

As lawyers, we assume the public is aware of what the statute of limitations is and what it means, in any particular case. It’s part of the language that we speak, and we assume, incorrectly, that the public uses the same language. I was surprised that the woman that called me was simply unaware that the time limit had expired on her case. That’s one reason I have written this article. The lawyer that was looking into the medical malpractice case never thought of looking into the negligence of the owner of the pick-up truck as a means of seeking compensation for his client’s injuries. That’s not to say that the case against the owner of the pick-up is an easy case. It may be fraught with all sorts of difficulties. Nevertheless, the woman who called me is time-barred from even looking into that case because of the two year statute of limitations.

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