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Statute of Limitations & Small Claims

Camila Lopez - Small Claims Procedure - March 2, 2023

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    Have you ever wondered why legal professionals advise others not to wait to file a legal claim? After an incident occurs, you only have a set period of time to file your lawsuit, this deadline is called the statute of limitations. Once the deadline is reached, even though you may still file your claim, you may not be able to win your case in small claims court. 

    Select the state you are filing in to explore common statute of limitations: 

    What is the Statute of Limitations? 

    A statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. Most lawsuits MUST be filed within a certain amount of time. 

    Why is there a Statute of Limitations?

    As time passes, most people begin to lose their evidence and their memory about the events begins to fade. 

    What Will Determine the Statute of Limitations for Your Case?

    In general, there isn’t a difference between the statute of limitations for a small claims lawsuit and the statute of limitations for a lawsuit filed in regular civil court

    Instead, there are two main factors that will determine the statute of limitations: 

    1. The type of legal claim you are suing about. 

    2. The state you are suing in.

    Type of Legal Claim Analysis

    There is a different statute of limitations period for different types of legal claims. For example, if someone pushed you and you injured your foot (a personal injury claim), this would be a different statute of limitations than if you were suing someone for breaching a contract (a breach of contract claim). 

    State Analysis 

    Once you decide what type of legal claim you have, you need to look up the statute of limitations for the legal claim in the state where the claim arose. For example, once you determined you have a breach of contract claim, you now need to look up the statute of limitations for a breach of contract claim in the state where the contract was breached. 

    Note, some states have “borrowing statutes” that allow them to “borrow” the statute of limitations of the state where the claim arose. This is a more complicated legal issue, consider speaking with an attorney if you are unsure where to file your small claims lawsuit and which statute of limitations applies in your case.  

    To determine the statute of limitations for legal claims in the state where the claim arose, you can check the small claims website where the claim arose as they typically have a chart with the statute of limitations for the most common types of claims. We have state-specific guides on statutes of limitations in New York, California, and Texas.

    You can also research the statute of limitations in the state’s civil codes. For example, in New York, the statute of limitations can be found in New York’s consolidated laws for Civil Practice Law & Rules. Figuring out when the statute of limitations runs out on a claim can be difficult and oftentimes involves complicated legal rules. If you have any doubts about the statute of limitations on your claim consider consulting with an attorney. The sooner you file your lawsuit after you realize something went wrong, the better off you are. 

    What About Claims Against the Government? 

    If you want to file a small claims lawsuit against a government agency, town, or city, your state may require that you reach out or file paperwork with the government entity before suing them in small claims court. 

    The statute of limitations may also differ if the claim is against a government entity. For example, in California, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims against a government entity is within 6 months of the date of the injury, which is different than a personal injury claim against a person or business. (Cal GOV sec. 911.2).


    Camila Lopez

    Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Camila holds a law degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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