How the Statute of Limitations Can Affect Your Personal Injury Case

In order to bring any lawsuit in New York for personal injury as the result of a motor vehicle or other accident, a plaintiff must comply with the applicable statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a time period fixed by the state legislature during which a person may bring a particular lawsuit. The limit may differ depending on the type of claim. For example, in a medical malpractice case, the statute requires a plaintiff bring suit no later than two years and six months after receiving treatment from the defendant.

In personal injury lawsuits—car crashes, slip-and-falls, product liability, negligence, et al.—the New York statute of limitations is three years from the date of the accident. At least, it is three years if the defendant is a private party or corporation. The statute of limitations is much more restrictive if the defendant is a state agency or state employee. This is because New York State is immune from lawsuits against itself unless special conditions specified by the legislature are met. One of those conditions is that a personal injury lawsuit against the state must commence withinone year and 90 days after the alleged accident.

A recentdecision by the Appellate Division, Second Department helps explain how the statute of limitations works in practice. In this case, the plaintiff was riding his bicycle. A vehicle owned by an employee of Metro-North struck him. Metro-North is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), a public corporation established by the State of New York. "Public corporation" means the MTA's directors are appointed by the governor of New York and other elected officials. The MTA is therefore treated as a state agency for purposes of personal injury lawsuits.

Here, the plaintiff sued the Metro-North employee approximately two years after the alleged accident, well within the three-year statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits against private parties. The defendant argued, however, he should be treated as a state employee. This would defeat the plaintiff's lawsuit, as he brought it after the statute of limitations against state employees—which at the time was only one year—expired.

Both the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division ruled against the defendant on this point. They held the defendant did not establish he was acting in the "course of his employment" at the time of the accident. That is to say, if the defendant was off-duty and driving a personal vehicle when he struck the plaintiff, he cannot claim special status as a public employee for purposes of contesting the plaintiff's lawsuit.

The peculiarity of the statute of limitations is just one legal obstacle a plaintiff must navigate in bringing a successful personal injury claim. If you are contemplating such litigation, it is important you work with an experienced New York accident attorney who can ensure you get your day in court.Contact our office today if you need to speak with an attorney immediately, or you just have a question or concern you need addressed.