What is the statute of limitations for civil cases in Massachusetts? John, Winchester.
A statute of limitations is a time limit beyond which a claimant loses his right to file a lawsuit seeking damages or other relief. In Massachusetts the statute of limitations varies depending on the type of claim. Generally, the period specified in the statute begins to run when the claim accrues, that is, when the injury is suffered. So, for example, claims for professional malpractice, fraud, personal injury, defamation, injury to property, or products liability must be brought within 3 years of the injury. The statute of limitations for a breach of contract is six years, or twenty years for contracts written under seal.
There are exceptions, however, such as the “discovery rule.” In cases where the injured party is not aware of the cause of his injury, or that he has been injured, the period specified in the statute does not begin to run until the injured party discovers—or should reasonably have discovered—his injury. So, for example, although medical malpractice claims must ordinarily be commenced within three years of the act or omission causing the injury, in cases where a foreign object is left in the body the period of limitations does not begin to run until the injured party discovers or should have discovered the object. The discovery rule has been applied in Massachusetts breach of contract claims and in a variety of other claims, including those involving professional services, where the plaintiff could not be expected to be able recognize the professional negligence. (See Anthony's Pier Four, Inc. v. Crandall Dry Dock Engrs., Inc., 396 Mass. 818 , 825 (1986); and Frank Cooke, Inc. v. Hurwitz, 10 Mass. App. Ct. at 107.) The wrong must be incapable of detection by the wronged party through the exercise of reasonable diligence. (Melrose Hous. Authy. v. New Hampshire Ins. Co., 24 Mass. App. Ct. 207 , 212 (1987), S.C., 402 Mass. 27 (1988.))
A statute of limitations may also be tolled—or stopped—in certain cases. For example, if an emancipated minor or a person suffering from temporary mental incompetence suffers an injury, the period specified in the statute of limitations does not begin to run until he turns eighteen or regains his competence. Because laws change, and because there are so many statutes of limitations and exceptions, a person who feels he has been wrongly injured should consult a Massachusetts attorney as soon as he becomes aware of his injury or of an act that may eventually cause injury. If your question was about a personal injury claim, visit our MA Personal Injury Discussion Forum for more information.