How long do I have to make a claim?
In Maine, the vast majority of personal injury claims are subject to a six-year statute of limitations. However, there are many exceptions, most notably the three year statute of limitations for most medical malpractice claims and the even shorter two year statute of limitations for claims against government entities and their employees (acting within the scope of their employment). In certain, very limited instances the statute of limitations for a negligence claim may be longer than six years, such as in case involving injuries to a minor. Because determining when a statute of limitations is complicated and fact-intensive and because so much is at stake in getting it right, you should always consult with an attorney about the statute of limitations for your claim, even if you decide to try to handle your case on your own.
A recent case illustrates how challenging and precarious it can be to determine when the statute of limitations in your case will run out. The client in that case came to us 18 months after her accident. She had done some research on the internet about personal injury claims and believed that her claim was subject to a six-year statute of limitations. As noted above, this would be true in the vast majority of cases. Unfortunately in her case, the driver who hit her car was operating her personal vehicle at a time when she was working in her capacity as a State employee. For reasons that were never completely clear, our client was never notified that the negligent driver was working at the time of the accident. Even if she had been given this information, it is not clear whether she would have known about the short deadline for filing a claim against a State employee who causes an accident in the scope of his or her employment (one year). The State took the position that the claim was time-barred since the claim had not been properly filed within a year of the date of the accident. We were able to successfully argue that there was just cause for the failure to file in a timely way, thereby permitting our client's case to move forward and eventually be resolved successfully.
One issue that frequently arises in medical malpractice cases is when the statute of limitations starts to run. To the surprise (and dismay) of many people who contact our firm, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims does not start to run from the date that the malpractice is discovered or identified, except in very limited situations. Instead, in almost all cases, the statute of limitations starts to run from the date of the malpractice, even if you did not even know that malpractice occurred until much later. One important exception to this is cases involving ongoing malpractice, e.g., a repeated misdiagnosis of a health problem that results in delayed and/or inappropriate treatment of the problem. Where ongoing malpractice has occurred, the statute of limitations runs from the last time when the malpractice took place. Using the example above, it would be the last time when the doctor misdiagnosed the health condition.
Here again, because determining what the statute of limitations is for a medical malpractice case is very complex, it is extremely important that you consult an attorney to discuss how long you have to bring your claim. Please feel free to contact one of our Maine personal injury lawyers for a free, no obligation consultation. All consultations are 100 percent confidential.