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How Statutes of Limitations Affect Your Case

To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., people often mistake courts of law for courts of justice. While judges often strive to come to equitable outcomes, and laws are supposed to be fair, there are also practical considerations at play. These sorts of considerations can sink an otherwise winning claim, if parties are not careful to keep them in mind. One of the most common rules that litigants run afoul of is the statute of limitations.

The statute of limitations is a time limit that the law places on a person for them to file their claim. The general rule is that a person must file their claim within a certain time period of when they knew or should have known that they had a cause of action. However, there are a wide variety of times when the clock temporarily stops running, such as if a person who owes a debt makes a payment on part of the debt, or if the defendant is hiding to avoid service.

Common Statutes of Limitations

One important thing to note is that the statute of limitations is not the same for every type of claim, and they may not even be the same for the same types of claims in different circumstances. For instance, a person who has a breach of contract claim can file it any time within five years, provided that they have a written contract. However, the time limit decreases to four years if the contract was merely oral. Additionally, if the plaintiff wants to force the defendant to perform the contract, then they must bring the claim within one year. Statutes of limitations also apply to federal laws, along with state ones. For instance, if a person has a claim for copyright infringement, they can bring it within three years and those three years are measured from the last act of copyright infringement.

Why Have a Statute of Limitations?

Many people, especially people with old claims, have an instinctive reaction that this sort of law is somehow unfair, but it exists for two good reasons. First, there are strong practical considerations that require a statute of limitations. Judges and juries need to be able to examine the best possible evidence in order to reach the most accurate conclusion. Allowing people an unlimited amount of time to bring a lawsuit would cut against that. Witnesses’ memories of events would be less and less clear, and the likelihood that important documents would be lost or destroyed increases greatly.

Beyond that, the statute of limitations also exists to respect the rights of potential defendants. While it may seem unfair to let the defendant get off without a penalty, it would be equally unfair to hold the threat of a lawsuit over their head for decades, potentially forcing them to answer for actions that they do not even remember.

If your business has recently had a contract dispute, do not delay in discussing your legal options with an attorney. Contact a West Palm Beach business litigation attorney at Pike & Lustig, LLP today before your time runs out.

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