The statute of limitations in Missouri is generally five years but this number may change based on cause of action or other factors. Learn more below about the rules governing not just Missouri but states across the United States.
What is a “Statute of Limitations?”
A statute of limitations is a type of state or federal law that restricts the amount of time an individual has to file a civil lawsuit after an accident or injury has occurred.
These limitations exist to prevent claimants from abusing the system and threatening legal action for an indefinite time period, sometimes decades after the claimant addressed the injury themselves. Additionally, these time limits have to do with a matter of the viability of evidence that often degrades as time passes. For instance, evidence relevant to the case might be corrupted, damaged, or simply lost over time. Another example is that witnesses may forget details, remember events inaccurately, move out of the state, pass away, or be paid off by the defendant.
In short, leaving any large gap of time between the accident and the claim can leave a lot of room for error and evidence may not be as reliable as once thought.
Missouri’s Statute of Limitations
According to the Missouri Code section 516.120, five years is the standard time limit to file a lawsuit to seek a legal remedy for an “injury to the person.” This means that you must begin a lawsuit by filing an initial complaint with the relevant court within five years, beginning the day that the incident occurs. Also, all injury claims stemming from deliberate misconduct must be brought to court within two years.
Common claims and their respective statute of limitations in Missouri include:
- Personal injury accidents – claim must be filed within five years of the date of the injury
- Car accidents – claim must be filed within five years of the date of the accident
- Truck accidents – claim must be filed within five years of the date of the accident
- Motorcycle accidents – claim must be filed within five years of the date of the accident
- Slip and fall accidents – claim must be filed within five years of the date of the accident
- Accidents caused by defective products – products liability claims must be brought within five years after the plaintiff suffers the injury
- Accidents on other peoples’ premises – premises liability claims must be brought within five years after the plaintiff suffers the injury
- Medical malpractice – Actions against healthcare providers must be filed within two years of the date that the act that caused the injury occurred
- Wrongful death – claim must be filed within three years of the date of death
Other Factors That Affect Time to File a Claim
Missouri’s statute of limitations applies to all cases. However, a few exceptional circumstances qualify for an extension, or a pause in the five-year countdown.
- Age of plaintiff – If the plaintiff is under the age of 21, they have five years from the day that they turn 21 to file a claim (except in cases of wrongful death or medical malpractice)
- Disability of plaintiff – If the plaintiff is mentally incapacitated when the accident occurred, they have five years to file a claim once a qualified professional declares that they are no longer incapacitated
- The defendant leaves the state – If the defendant leaves the state of Missouri after the accident, the five-year clock starts when they return
- Discovery Rule – The State of Missorui acknowledges that not all damage is detectable within five years, which is why this exception exists. In such cases, the plaintiff has three years from the date that they realize they’ve suffered physical or psychological damage to file a claim. This is common in premises liability, chemical exposure, toxic exposure, sexual assault, and medical malpractice cases.
- Medical malpractice (foreign object in the body or failure to inform) – If a foreign object is left behind in the body, the plaintiff must file a claim within two years of the date that the injury was discovered and no more than 10 years after date of the act in which the foreing object was left behind. This limitation also applies in medical malpractice claims in which there was negligent failure to inform a patient of test results.
Other gray areas do exist that could qualify a plaintiff for extension, which is why you need the help of a St. Louis personal injury attorney to see if you have a case.
What To Do if You Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline
If you do not start your personal injury claim within five years, the court will most likely decline to hear your case and you will forfeit your chance to collect fair compensation. Furthermore, allowing the full five years to pass reflects poorly on your claim and gives away any sort of upper hand you might have had in a settlement negotiation.
Depending on the case and individuals involved, you could still file the claim anyway because the court will not outright prevent you from doing so. The statute of limitations is still in place, however, and the defendant in your case is liable to file a motion to dismiss your claim, citing Missouri’s statute of limitations deadline. The court will allow this motion to pass in most cases.