The “statute of limitations” is a legal rule that defines when a lawsuit can be filed. If a person tries to sue after the certain time limit set by the law, the claim is barred and the defendant will automatically win. Each state, including South Carolina, has its own statutes of limitations for each type of civil lawsuit, from contract disputes to personal injury. Each different type of claim can have a different time limit. Such as medical malpractice may have a shorter or longer statute of limitations than, say, trespass.
When Does the Time Limit Begin?
The time period within which a person can sue doesn’t start to run until that person knew or should have known they suffered a harm and the nature of that harm. For example, a girl takes an acne medication as a teenager. Ten years later, she tries to have children and it’s discovered that all of the women who took this acne medication are unable to have children. She was not warned of this fertility problem nor did she know about it until she got off birth control and started trying to make a family with her husband. Her time limit to sue didn’t start when she first took the medicine, but when she discovered or reasonably should have discovered the harm.
However, if the drug company had a national campaign about infertility exposing this problem, including mailing or calling all former users to inform them of the problem, and the woman still waited 13 years to sue, it would probably be seen as too late. Note that this discovery of harm rule almost never comes into play in the most common personal injury claims, like car accidents and slip and falls.
Tolling of Statute of Limitations
The time to sue can be extended based on various factors, this is called tolling. For example, a child who’s injured doesn’t have the clock start running against them until they are no longer incapacitated by being a minor in the eyes of the law. Therefore, when they are 18, typically, the statute starts to run. As an example, let’s say a 15 year old is hit by a car on his bicycle. Normally, the statute of limitations in South Carolina is three years for personal injuries. However, it doesn’t start for three more years until the boy is 18 years old. Therefore, he has until he is 21 years old to sue the person who hit him with a car.
Another reason the time limit may be extended is disability. If someone suffered from severe mental illness and was hospitalized for many years, during which they were harmed, it would be unfair to expect them to have the mental capacity to sue.
Suing the Government
Unfortunately for those who are harmed by a government entity, governments have immunity to many types of lawsuits, meaning you can’t sue them for many things. Even if the you can sue the government, the statute of limitations for injury claims against the government may be shorter than against other defendants. In short, if you’ve been harmed by a local, state, or federal government employee or agency, you’ll need to talk to a knowledgeable attorney.
The following table outlines the primary statutes of limitations for civil cases in South Carolina.
|Injury to Person||3 years|
|Injury to Personal Property||3 years|
|Libel, Slander, or False Imprisonment||2 years|
|Professional Malpractice||For medical malpractice: Generally, lawsuit must be brought within 3 years from the act (i.e. surgery) or the date the harm should reasonably have been discovered, with a maximum time limit is 6 years. If a foreign object is left in the body, the time limit is 2 years. The most the statute of limitations will be tolled for an injured child is 7 years total or 1 year after turning 18.
For architects, contractors, and professional engineers malpractice: Typically 8 years
|Contracts||If the harm was from a written contract under seal, you have 20 years to sue. However, lawsuits for other written or oral contracts must be brought in 3 years.|
|Sexual Abuse or Incest Civil Remedies||6 years after the person turns 21 years old or within 3 years of the time of discovery of the injury, whichever occurs later|
|Wrongful Death||3 years, although note that the discovery rule may apply in some wrongful death cases.|
Note: It’s critical to verify any statute of limitations laws you research by conducting your own legal research or contacting an experienced South Carolina civil litigation lawyer because state laws change all the time and misunderstanding the time limit can result in a permanent barrier to sue the person who harmed or wronged you.
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Suffering from an injury, whether physical, emotional, or financial, is a stressful situation. While you may be feeling overwhelmed, you don't have to face the South Carolina legal system alone. The state's civil statute of limitations varies depending on the circumstances of the case and the type of claim involved. If you are dealing with a personal injury or dispute that needs legal recourse, it's in your best interests to contact an injury attorney for a free claim evaluation.
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