Law FAQ: How long do I have to file a legal claim?
The deadline for filing a lawsuit is referred to as the statute of limitation. The length of time you have to file a lawsuit under Tennessee law depends on the nature of the underlying claim:
Personal Injury — Under Tennessee law, a personal injury claim must generally be filed within 1 year from the date of injury. Personal injury claims include things like car wrecks, slip and falls, and medical malpractice. There are some situations where the 1 year deadline can be extended — for example, where an injury cannot reasonably be discovered within the statute of limitation, or where the injury occurs to a minor — however, such exceptions are rare and can be very tricky. The determination of the precise time period can be complicated, and therefore you should contact a lawyer if you you have a personal injury claim to avoid the risk that you miss an important deadline. (Other claims that are likewise subject to a 1 year statute of limitation include many state and federal civil rights claims, claims for legal malpractice, violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, and claims for breach of fiduciary duty by a corporate officer.)
Important Note: the “date of injury” for purposes of calculating the 1 year is the date of the incident leading to the injury — not necessarily the date the injury blossoms into it full consequence. Example: a car wreck occurs and the victim initially survives but eventually dies in the hospital 5 days later. The date the statute of limitation begins to run on the wrongful death claim is NOT the date of the death, but rather the date of the auto accident.
Defective/Dangerous Product — Under Tennessee law, a products liability claim must generally be filed within 1 year from the date of injury, but in no event can it be later than 10 years from the date of the first purchase of the product for use or consumption. Determination of the exact time period can be confusing, and you should contact a lawyer immediately if you believe you have been the victim of a defective or dangerous product, or you may risk forfeiting your legal rights.
Property Loss — Generally speaking, a claim for property-related losses must be filed within 3 years. This would include, for example, not only physical damage to property (damage to vehicle, house fire, etc.) but also the loss of property or funds as the result of fraud, misrepresentation, conversion, or unlawful interference with contract.
Breach of Contract — Under Tennessee law, a breach of contract claim must be filed within 6 years, unless the contracting parties have agreed in their contract to a shorter deadline. Breach of contract claims would include, for example, failure to perform agreed-upon services, failure to deliver goods purchased, or failure to make payment. One notable exception to this rule, however, are breach of contract claims as they relate to the improvement of property (e.g. claims against building or home improvement contractors). The statute of limitation for such claims is only 4 years from the date of substantial completion of the improvements.
Please note that these deadlines are the generally applicable deadlines for garden variety-type claims. It would be virtually impossible to attempt to catalog each and every type of claim, and one should be mindful that there are specific statutes of limitation (and potential exceptions) that may apply to particular circumstances and claims. The most prudent course of action is to contact a lawyer immediately if you think you have a claim that requires investigation and/or legal action.
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