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Injury lawsuits can be complicated, especially those involving a large number of people. Class action lawsuits can allow a group of people to collectively file a single injury claim, and they can have different rules for how and when they can be filed.
One of these differences has to do with the statute of limitations, which limits the time you have to bring a case. So how do these rules differ? And if the statute of limitations has run out on your case, can you still join a class action lawsuit?
For Whom the Statute Tolls
Normally, the statute of limitations runs from the date of your injury or the time you discover the harm. You can think of it as a clock that starts ticking down, and when it expires you may lose your chance to sue. However, there are circumstances that "toll" the statute of limitations, or pause the clock.
The filing of a class action lawsuit is one of the ways the statute can toll. The Supreme Court has held that "commencement of a class action suspends the applicable statute of limitations as to all asserted members of the class who would have been parties." This means that starting the class action suit can pause the countdown for anyone affected by the claim. This can be true even for people who haven't joined the class action at the time when it's filed, so long as they join in a timely manner.
Opting In or Opting Out: On the Clock
For example, let's say that you are injured in a car accident. The normal statute of limitations to bring a claim against the car company in state court may be two years. If somewhere in that time a class action is filed in federal court, perhaps suing the manufacturer for defective parts, the clock on your two-year limit would pause.
So even if it's been over two years since the accident, it may still be possible to join the class action lawsuit, so long as you do it promptly.
The decision on whether to join in or opt out of a class action lawsuit can be complicated and may depend on the particulars of your case. You may want to consult with an experienced consumer injury attorney to determine what's best for you and to make sure you're complying with the statute of limitations.