At first glance a statute of limitations and a statute of repose can look similar, causing some to question if there’s any difference at all. But there is. In general, statutes of limitations and statutes of repose are both state laws that set time limits on the right to file a civil lawsuit. The major difference is that a statute of limitations begins when an accident or incident takes place, while the clock on a statute of repose starts when an action occurs – or substantially occurs, such as when renovations to a building are largely completed — regardless of whether damage or an injury has occurred.
However, there are a few key differences between a statute of limitations and a statute of repose.
There is a specific statute of limitations in most states that applies to “tort” or personal injury cases in which an individual’s carelessness or intentional action causes harm to another. And that same personal injury lawsuit deadline will typically apply to product liability lawsuits. The time limitation to file a suit kicks in when the damage or injury is discovered, so there could be a significant period of time between when the initial cause occurred – for example, when a defective drug was used – and when the injury was actually discovered. Here in Massachusetts the time period between discovery and filing is three years.
A statute of repose is quite different. It sets a deadline based on the passage of time or the occurrence of a certain event that doesn’t itself cause harm or give rise to a potential lawsuit. For example, a law suit against an architect or contractor arising out of negligent design, planning, construction, or general administration of a construction project would have to be filed within the statute of repose time limitation which starts when the project is largely completed, sold, or occupied.
The statute of repose time limitation in Massachusetts is six years from the triggering event, such as the ones used in the example above, regardless of whether a lawsuit-worthy incident occurred. A statute of limitation is NOT related to the time at which the incident occurred or was discovered. So even if an incident and the resulting injury or damage occurred and a suit was filed within an applicable statute of limitations timeframe (three years from time of discovery), it would be overruled by the statute of repose if the suit was filed after six years from the time the project was completed, using our above example.
Confusing? Well, yes, for most non-attorney individuals it can be. That’s why it’s so important to retain counsel if you or a loved one are injured or suffer a loss as the result of a product defect or defective construction. An attorney experienced in legal proceedings related to statutes of limitation and statutes of repose can help you receive the settlement you deserve. To learn more statute of repose cases and receive a free initial consultation, contact me today.