Statutes Of Limitations And Statutes Of Repose

Some legal claims are governed by two time limits: a “statute of limitations” and a “statute of repose.”  Technically, all legal actions have a statute of limitations.  Only a very few, such as construction defect cases or products liability claims, also have a statute of repose.

Most people are familiar with statutes of limitations.  Those are time limits under which you must assert your legal rights or lose them.  In Iowa, depending on your claim the statute of limitations could be two, five, or ten years.  You must file suit within that time period or lose the right to do so.  If you exceed the time limit for suing, there is very little, and usually nothing, that you can do to save your legal claim.

The time period under a statute of limitations begins to “run,” like a backwards countdown, at varying points depending on the type of legal claim and the specific facts of the case.  It is important to accurately determine when that time period begins because, if it started earlier than you realized, your mistake will not allow you to get around the limitations period.  One example that I’ve seen variously involves people believing that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until you hire an attorney, or contact an insurance company, or settlement negotiations fail, or until you decide that you needed to pursue legal action.  The clock on your claim does not stop and is not delayed by any of those.

Folks also often think that statutes of limitations don’t apply to egregious cases of wrongdoing or cases that have great evidence because “the guy just shouldn’t be able to get away with it.”  That may be true, but you still have to sue within the limitations period, regardless of how great your case is or how badly someone else wronged you.  Otherwise, the guy “will just get away with it.”

Statutes of repose are a little more difficult.  They can be frustrating for people when they impact a legal claim.  Statutes of repose begin at a fixed date (for example, when your house was finished or you bought a product) and then continue for a set period of years.  Once that time period has expired, you lose your legal rights even if you have not been injured yet.  Some statutes of repose allow for a delayed time period in certain circumstances.  But it is possible that you could try to begin a claim within the applicable statute of limitations but have it be outside the statute of repose time period.  In that situation you cannot sue.

As you can see, statutes of limitations and statutes of repose are very important because they can prevent your lawsuit.  It takes careful legal analysis and knowledge of the statutes and how they’ve been applied by Iowa’s courts to navigate this area of law, especially in personal injury or wrongful death, motorcycle accident, car accident, construction defect and products liability cases.   Please feel free to contact me for more information or to discuss a legal matter that includes statute of limitations or statute of repose issues.

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