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Just as the COVID-19 pandemic devastated businesses and people's public and private lives, it has affected the civil and criminal justice systems as well. As a result, calls to toll (delay or pause) statutes of limitations have been made on several state and federal levels.
In simple words, a statute of limitations is the time you have to file a lawsuit. The exact time depends on where you live and the type of claim you have.
For instance, one state may give someone four years to bring contract lawsuits but only one year for tort (injury) cases. Another state, on the other hand, may do the opposite and give four years for tort cases and one year for contract-related lawsuits. So, it is important that you are aware of the laws that apply in your state. (For detailed statute of limitations laws in your state, please visit our state statute of limitations page.)
Stay-at-home orders and social distancing are in effect in several states, meaning courts are either closed or operating on a reduced schedule. Most courts are also conducting court appearances and meetings remotely to minimize the risk of transmission.
So what does this mean for you? You may be considering when you should bring a lawsuit or wondering if the statute of limitations passed on a case you thought would come your way. It can also affect you if you are in the criminal defense system (if you are in jail awaiting trial, or have a criminal case coming up).
Although COVID-19 is an unprecedented pandemic, tolling statutes of limitations when a disaster strikes is not a new concept for the courts. The extension of the statutes of limitations during the civil war is one notable example. The statutes of limitations were also extended in states after September 11, 2001.
Some actions governmental entities are doing to extend the statutes of limitations amid the COVID-19 pandemic include:
You should note that tolling doesn't mean the statute of limitations will be extended indefinitely. Rather, it is just an interruption that prevents the applicable laws from expiring during the pandemic.
States and the federal government are struggling to come up with rules regarding the statutes of limitations during this pandemic. In the meantime, you should: