How long do you have to file your civil lawsuit before it’s permanently barred?
The statute of limitations refers to the law that sets forth the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a particular lawsuit in South Carolina.
It’s incredibly important that you know the amount of time you have to file your lawsuit because once the time runs out you are permanently barred from filing your lawsuit.
Keeping in mind the harsh consequences of ignoring the statute of limitations, let’s take a close look at the statute of limitations in the Palmetto State.
What purpose does the statute of limitations serve?
Limiting the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit serves 3 important purposes:
- Peace of mind. The statute of limitations prevents plaintiffs from subjecting individuals (who may have done nothing wrong) to threats of being sued indefinitely.
- Minimize the deterioration of evidence. The statute of limitations prevents claims from being filed when evidence is no longer fresh and witnesses are no longer available. This is important because the deterioration or loss of evidence makes an accurate or just outcome less likely.
- Reduce the cost of litigation. The cost of litigating a claim increases with the passage of time because it’s costly to track down disbursed witnesses, search for and retrieve old evidence, and revive faded memories. The statute of limitations helps make litigation less expensive for everyone.
What’s the limitation period for South Carolina personal injury lawsuits?
Each type of case has its own limitation period. Here’s an overview of the limitation periods for common civil cases in South Carolina:
|South Carolina civil statute of limitations|
|Type of case||Statute of limitations||South Carolina statute|
|Personal injury||3 years||S.C. Code § 15-3-530(4)|
|Professional liability||3 years||S.C. Code § 15-3-530|
|Libel/slander||2 years||S.C. Code § 15-3-550|
|Fraud||3 years||S.C. Code § 15-3-530(7)|
|Written or oral contracts||3 years||S.C. Code § 15-3-530(1)|
|Sexual abuse||6 years after the person turns 21 years of age, or within 3 years of the discovery of the injury (whichever occurs later)||S.C. Code § 15-3-555|
|Workers’ compensation||2 years||S.C. Code § 42-15-40|
|Wrongful death||3 years||S.C. Code § 15-3-530(5)|
What about cases against the government?
If you sue the government (perhaps you were injured by a dangerous condition in a town swimming pool), you must do so under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act.
Section 15 -78-10 of the South Carolina Tort Claims Act gives plaintiffs 2 years to file a lawsuit (although it can be extended to 3 years if the plaintiff files a verified petition within 1 year).
In general, suing the government requires you to take certain steps that you wouldn’t have to if you were suing a private individual or business. If you think you may have a legitimate claim against the government, it’s a good idea to meet with a licensed attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are preserved.
When does the clock start to run?
Once you’ve determined how long you have to file your lawsuit, you need to figure out when the clock started to run.
The limitations period generally begins to run on the date you discover or should have discovered your injury (this is called the “discovery rule”). In most cases, this date is the same date as your accident, but not always.
Consider the following example:
The following week, on October 25, 2020, Samantha woke up in the morning with intense neck pain. Samantha, who does not like hospitals, procrastinated for another 2 weeks, at which point the pain finally became so bad that she went to see her doctor. On November 7, 2020, Samantha’s doctor diagnosed her with whiplash caused by her car accident.
When is the last day Samantha can file her personal injury lawsuit?
- October 17, 2023
- October 25, 2023
- November 7, 2023
The answer is October 25, 2023. Samantha’s 3-year clock started running on October 25, 2020, the date she should have known she was injured (and therefore had a legitimate claim) even though she didn’t find out for certain until November 7, 2020.
Are there any exceptions to the statute of limitations in South Carolina?
There are 3 primary circumstances where the statute of limitations clock may be delayed or paused. In legal terms, this is referred to as “tolling.”
- Claims involving children under the age of 18 or individuals with a mental disability. If the injured person is a minor, the limitations period will be extended until 1 year after they turn 18. A similar law applies to individuals who are declared “insane.” For these individuals, the limitations period is extended until 1 year after they are no longer considered “insane.”
- When a person leaves the state. If the person responsible for the victim’s injuries leaves the state of South Carolina before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of nonresidence won’t usually be counted as part of the statute of limitations.
- When a person takes steps to conceal themselves. If the person responsible for the victim’s injuries takes steps to conceal their liability from the plaintiff, the clock generally won’t start running until the period of concealment ends.