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You shouldn’t wait to file a New York small claims court lawsuit after an incident occurs, as you only have a set period of time to file your lawsuit! The deadline to file a lawsuit is called the Statute of Limitations. Once the deadline is reached, you can file your New York small claims lawsuit, but the judge may dismiss your case if they find the statute of limitations has passed.
What is the Statute of Limitations
The New York legislature sets deadlines (called the statutes of limitations) for when a lawsuit can be filed. There is a different statute of limitations for each type of case. A lawsuit cannot be filed after the statute of limitations has been reached.
There is no difference in the statute of limitations for a regular NY lawsuit and a NY small claims lawsuit. Said differently, there is no New York small claims court statute of limitations, rather, there is a statute of limitations for the type of small claims lawsuit you have. Types of small claims lawsuits are contracts, security deposits, car accidents, etc.
How to look up the New York Statutes of Limitations
To look up a specific statute of limitations period, you can go straight to the source on the New York Senate website. There you can find the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules that lists all the statutes of limitations.
Common New York Statutes of Limitations
This is not a complete list but rather some of the most common statute of limitations periods affecting New York small claims court lawsuits. If you have any doubts about a specific statute of limitations period, talk to an attorney, as some cases can be very nuanced.
Breach of Contract
In New York, there is no difference in the statute of limitations for oral and written contracts. The NY statute of limitations for breach of contract for both oral and written contracts is → 6 years. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 213(2))
Except as provided by section 213-a, which states an action on a residential rent overcharge shall be commenced within 4 years of the first overcharge alleged. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 213-A)
You may not realize it, but you enter into contracts all the time. Just because you don’t sign a paper contract, doesn’t mean you haven’t entered into a contract.
Here are some examples of small claims lawsuits involving contracts:
Your landlord fails to return your security deposit.
An airline refuses to refund your ticket after you requested a refund as per your travel insurance.
You hire a landscaper and pay them upfront, but they don’t do the work.
You buy a set of plates from a small business online, and they never deliver your plates. Your receipt is written proof that you entered into a contract with the online business.
You hire your neighbor's daughter to babysit your kids, and you pay her upfront, but she never showed up.
You and your friend meet for coffee, and you agreed to sell your vintage baseball cards to your friend for $1000, your friend takes the cards but refuses to pay.
You lend your friend $3000 and tell them you would like to get paid back in 60 days, but your friend doesn’t pay you back.
Property Damage or Property Theft
The NY statute of limitation for lawsuits involving property damage is → 3 years from the date the damage occurred or from when the property was taken. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214(4), (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214(3), Vigilant Insurance Company of America v. Housing Authority of the City of El Paso, Texas)
(N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214(3) uses the legal term “chattel” to describe all other property that is not land, so do not worry if you see this term.
For injuries to property caused by latent (not yet discoverable) effects of exposure to any substance upon or within property → 3 years from the date of discovery, or the date it could have reasonably been discovered. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. §214-C(2))
Here are some examples of small claims lawsuits involving property damage:
You were driving through New York and got into a car accident with another motorist who was driving negligently. Your car is damaged, and the other driver doesn’t want to pay for the costs to repair your car.
You invite a friend over to your dorm room, and they take your textbooks from your desk.
You are doing work at a coffee shop, and another customer takes your laptop from the table and leaves.
A tow truck company negligently towed your legally parked car.
A contractor you hired to repair your roof negligently damaged your roof. As a consequence, you had a hole in your roof for weeks.
You hired movers that negligently handled your belongings, and as a consequence, your belongings were damaged in the move.
*Oftentimes, property damage is the result of someone's negligence. If you have any doubts about whether another party acted negligently and caused damage to your property, consult with an attorney.
The NY statute of limitation for lawsuits involving fraud is → the greater of 6 years from the date the cause of action arose or 2 years from the discovery of the fraud. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 213(8))
Here are some examples of small claims lawsuits involving fraud:
A car dealership salesperson sells you are car they said had never been in an accident, but the salesperson knew the car had been in an accident and was defective when they sold you the car.
A scammer calls you with a fake claim that your Netflix subscription service has been suspended because of a billing problem and asks for your bank account information.*
*Note that it is extremely hard to find telephone or online scammers and bring them to court.
Negligence by a Healthcare Provider
The NY statute of limitation for lawsuits involving medical, dental, or podiatric malpractice is → 2 years and 6 months from the date of the injury. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214-A)
If the action is based on a foreign object in the body → 1 year from discovery. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214-A)
It can be very hard to prove negligence by a healthcare provider. Check with an attorney to make sure you are bringing the right type of negligence claim.
Here are some examples of small claims lawsuits involving negligence by a healthcare provider:
A dentist negligently extracted the wrong tooth from your mouth.
You went to a physical therapist for rehab after knee surgery, and the physical therapist negligently treated the wrong knee.
Your podiatrist negligently performed your bunion surgery.
The NY statute of limitation for lawsuits involving defamation (libel or slander) is → 1 year from the act. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 215(3)), Colantonio v. Mercy Med Ctr..
Here are some examples of small claims lawsuits involving defamation:
You hear your co-worker spreading a false rumor about your job performance at work to other workers. As a result, you get fired. This form of spoken defamation is considered slander.
A customer of your small business falsely claims in an online review that you sell counterfeit merchandise. As a result, you start to substantially lose business. This form of written defamation is considered libel.
A work colleague falsely accuses you of stealing a company computer to the police, and as a result, you are investigated by the police and fired from your job.
The NY statute of limitation for lawsuits involving personal injury is → 3 years. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214(5))
Personal injury law can be very nuanced, and N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214(5) has some specific exceptions. Consult an attorney if you have questions about your personal injury claim.
Here are some examples of small claims lawsuits involving personal injury:
You are walking down a public street next to another person, and their dog bites your leg.
You get into a car accident and suffer injuries to your neck and back.
You are jogging on a walking trail, and a bicyclist runs into you, causing you to break your leg.
* Keep in mind that most personal injury attorneys provide free consultations and only get paid if you win, so you may want to reach out to a personal injury attorney before filing a personal injury lawsuit in small claims.
Suing a government entity
To first sue a New York government entity such as an agency, city, or town, they must be notified within 90 days of the event; for example, the accident. (N.Y. G.M.U. § 50-E)
Next, you must wait 30 days after notice to begin the lawsuit. This allows the state, agency, or town the opportunity to settle the claim.
If no settlement occurs, the statute of limitations to sue the state, agency, or town is 1 year and 90 days. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 217-A)
Please keep in mind that the statute of limitations listed above may be different when they involve the government. For example, if your car is damaged by a pothole on a county-owned road, the deadline to sue the government may be different than if you were suing a car mechanic for property damage. Do not delay filing. Make sure to consult an attorney if you have any issues determining the statute of limitations.
Learn more about claims against the government here.
Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia holds a J.D. degree and is a certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts.