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When does the statute of limitations start running?

We have spoken before in this blog about statutes of limitations, and how an incompetent attorney can torpedo your legitimate claim by failing to file your lawsuit in time. In today’s post, we will discuss when the clock starts ticking on most personal injury claims, to give readers a general idea how long they have before their right to sue goes away.

Usually, the law does not consider the statute of limitations period to begin until the injured person knows, or reasonably should know, that they have suffered harm, and the nature of that harm. This is called the “discovery of harm” rule.

This is because not all personal injuries are immediately apparent. Say a surgeon leaves a temporary bandage inside a patient during an operation. It could be some time before the bandage begins causing harm to the patient, and still more time until doctors perform a second operation to discover the bandage.

If the statute of limitations started ticking the moment the surgeon sewed up the patient with the bandage still inside, the patient might not be able to sue the negligent surgeon — an unjust result. The patient did not wait too long to make her claim; she simply lacked the evidence to make a claim until a long period of time had passed.

Once a victim of medical malpractice discovers that they have been hurt and how it happened, often their next step is to find an attorney to handle their claim. The client relies on the attorney to file important documents, such as the complaint, within the relevant time limits. Attorneys who fail to do so jeopardize their clients’ rights.

Legal malpractice litigation attempts to make this injustice right, by pursuing a claim against the negligent attorney.