The time limit within which a lawsuit must be brought is called a statute of limitation. That time period varies from state to state and depending upon the nature of the case. There may also be specific notice requirements when dealing with certain governmental entities as potential defendants. If a lawsuit is not filed within the proper time limit that applies to the case, the right to sue and recover damages is forever lost.
There are a couple of exceptions to the time limits that would normally apply to an injury claim. Measuring the statute of limitations for a particular situation can be a complex issue. For instance, under the discovery rule, the time begins to run from when the person who is injured knew, or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, that he or she was injured. The discovery rule is commonly applied in cases involving exposure to toxic substances and in some medical malpractice cases. In such cases, an injured victim may not know of his or her injuries until after the time limits had already expired.
Another exception applies to children. Typically, the time does not begin to run for an injury until the child reaches 18 years of age. These special rules may also apply to people who are mentally impaired or who leave the state for particular kinds of reasons such as for military service.