Can I Sue for an Old Injury?

By September 20, 2023Personal Injury

If your injury is old, you may still have the right to seek compensation from the party who caused it or their insurer. Here’s how an injury’s age can play into your ability to sue for it and the role of an experienced Macon personal injury lawyer in seeking your payment.

Overview of Your Rights to Sue for a Personal Injury

If someone’s careless, reckless, or intentional misconduct causes harm to you, the law entitles you to hold that party accountable for your losses. That party could be an individual, a corporation, a government agency, or other legal entity.

Can I Sue for an Old Injury

In general, those rights permit you to demand compensation for the full scope of physical, emotional, and financial harm you suffered because of the liable party’s conduct.

Your damages could include payment for your:

  • Medical expenses of treating your injuries and relevant health conditions.
  • Non-medical out-of-pocket expenses flowing from your injuries or the accident, such as repair and replacement costs or replacement services while you heal.
  • Loss of income and benefits due to missing work because of an injury.
  • Loss of future opportunities because of a disability.
  • Physical pain and discomfort.
  • Emotional anguish and mental health challenges.
  • Loss of independence or quality of life.
  • Scarring, disfigurement, or loss of bodily function.

You may receive punitive (or exemplary) damages if the at-fault party engaged in outrageous or malicious actions. You may receive statutory damages if the at-fault party violated a specific statute while harming you.

Time Limits on Your Right to Sue for Personal Injury

While the law allows you to seek compensation for personal injuries, time limits often apply. Failing to take legal action within these limits can cause you to lose your right to pursue damages.

Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum time you have to take legal action. In personal injury cases, the clock generally starts running from the date you suffered an injury (subject to a few exceptions).

The length of the statute of limitations for a personal injury varies from state to state. In Georgia, for example, you generally have two years from the date of the injury to file a personal injury claim. But the general deadline for suing for an identical injury in South Carolina is three years.

Statute of Repose

A statute of repose limits the period when you might sue for an injury arising from an event, regardless of any exceptions to the statute of limitations.  

For instance, in product liability cases (claims against manufacturers when defective products cause injuries), the statute of repose in Georgia is 10 years from the date of purchase.

No one can pursue a claim for damages after this period ends, regardless of when the injury occurred or appeared.

To illustrate, if you bought a lawnmower containing a defective original part, but the part failed and injured you 11 years after the date of purchase, the statute of repose might prevent you from suing the manufacturer for damages.

Other deadlines can circumscribe your right to file a lawsuit for personal injury. Insurance policies often limit the time you have to submit a claim for a covered loss, for example.

State and federal laws sometimes require you to give notice of a possible claim to a potential defendant within a certain time to preserve your ability to sue in the future. It can also curtail your rights to sue if the liable party goes through bankruptcy or if they die and their estate goes through probate.

Practical considerations can also influence your ability to take legal action for personal injury. Over time, you might lose evidence, or it can degrade, and witnesses can move away or forget details, making it difficult (if not impossible) to prove a claim for damages. Judges, juries, and insurance companies may also doubt the validity and sincerity of an injury claim you file long after the events that caused it.

Exceptions to Personal Injury Time Limits

These deadlines, although consequential, are not always set. Certain circumstances can prolong your opportunity to sue for personal injury.

Discovery Rule for Triggering Statute of Limitations Clock

One notable exception to the statute of limitations is the discovery rule, which gives you extra time to sue for damages if you didn’t immediately notice your injury or that someone else’s actions caused it.

In such cases, the discovery rule pushes the start of the statute of limitations clock to the date you discovered (or reasonably should have discovered) your injury or its wrongful cause.

This exception might apply, for example, in the case of an illness with a long latency period (the time between toxic exposure and development of symptoms) or if an at-fault party acted fraudulently to cover up their role in causing an accident. It’s usually up to you to prove that failing to recognize your injury or its cause was reasonable.  

Other Reasons for Extending Statutes of Limitations

State statutes of limitations laws often contain other exceptions that can extend the time to sue in a personal injury case. For instance, if the injured person is a minor or mentally incapacitated at the time of the injury, the clock might not start running until they reach the age of maturity or recover their mental faculties.

If the defendant leaves the jurisdiction and takes steps to avoid facing a lawsuit (such as living under an alias or hiding out in a foreign country), the clock might pause until they return or become subject to service of process.

Certain Claims Can Have Long or Unlimited Statutes of Limitations

State and federal statutes also create particularly lengthy or even unlimited statutes of limitations for some types of claims. For instance, statutes often have long time limits in claims for asbestos exposure due to the long latency period of mesothelioma. In recent years, it’s also become common for state laws to approve lengthy limitation periods for cases of childhood sexual abuse injuries.

Suing for Your Old Injury

With an understanding of the general rules and exceptions around time limits, let’s delve into the specifics of an old injury claim. Whether you can sue for an old injury may depend on multiple factors.

How Old Is Old?

The definition of an old injury can vary. It often refers to an injury that occurred years or even decades ago. Knowing the exact number of years matters. If you live in Georgia, for example, you may consider an injury from last year to be old if it’s healed now. In an ordinary case, though, that injury is still well within the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases, meaning there’s a good chance you could sue for it.

That analysis applies to an injury of any age. Laws exist that make it possible to sue for some injuries that happened many years ago. The first step in determining if you can sue for your old injury is to pinpoint its exact age and confirm the expiration date for the statute of limitations or any other relevant deadlines. The most reliable way to do this is to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney immediately.

Type of Injury

Certain types of injuries, particularly those with delayed symptoms or those that occurred during childhood, are more likely than others to qualify for exceptions or extensions to the statute of limitations. Many types of cancer resulting from exposure to carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), for example, can take decades to emerge, and specific laws or the discovery rule often account for this latency period.

When You Discovered the Injury or Its Cause

Your ability to sue for an old injury may depend on when you discovered it or its cause and whether you could have done so sooner with reasonable effort. The discovery rule can give you significant extra time to sue for certain injuries and illnesses that are hard to detect or if there’s evidence that a liable party intentionally hid their fault from you.

Your Age and Faculties When It Happened

If you suffered your injuries as a child, you could have significant extra time to sue for damages. You might also have extra time if you sustained your injury at a time when you lacked the mental faculties to enforce your rights.

How a Skilled Personal Injury Lawyer Can Handle an Old Injury Case

As the discussion above reflects, establishing whether you can sue for an old injury is a legally and factually intensive exercise, and that just gets you to the starting line. If you have the right to sue, you still need to take the steps necessary to build a strong case and secure the maximum compensation possible.

Hiring a skilled personal injury lawyer is the only realistic way to sue for an old injury. In the first instance, an attorney can evaluate your circumstances to determine if the law in your jurisdiction permits you to file a suit against an at-fault party or pursue compensation in another manner.

After determining the extent of your rights, a lawyer can handle every aspect of pursuing payment on your behalf.

Depending on your needs and priorities, a lawyer can:

  • Take immediate steps to preserve your rights before any approaching deadlines expire.
  • Investigate the causes of your old injury to identify every party who may owe you damages.
  • Evaluate the full scope of your past and future damages to ensure you seek adequate compensation for your losses.
  • Track down, secure, and preserve evidence that proves an at-fault party’s liability for your old injury.
  • Handle all interactions with insurance companies on your behalf, acting as your representative and advocate.
  • Prepare and file a lawsuit or insurance claim on your behalf to document your old injury and demand appropriate compensation for it.
  • Negotiate a settlement of your old injury claim if possible.
  • Advise you on whether to accept or reject a settlement offer.
  • Take your old injury claim to court to prove it to a judge and jury.
  • Ensure you receive the compensation due under a settlement, judgment, or jury award.

You can afford a personal injury lawyer. You can explore your potential rights to sue for an old injury in a free consultation with a qualified legal professional. You’ll never have to pay a penny for that evaluation, even if the lawyer determines you cannot sue for your old injury.

Personal injury lawyers also work on a contingency basis, meaning they don’t charge upfront retainers or bill you by the hour for their time. Instead, they only collect a fee if they recover your compensation. Their services cost you nothing unless they get you results.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer About Your Old Injury Today

Don’t lose hope about suing for your old injury. You could still have the right to seek compensation from an at-fault party or insurance company. To learn more, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today for a free case evaluation.