By: David Barry
“Time waits for no man,” “time is of the essence,” and “no time like the present.” Most of us have all heard these “time” honored clichés, and no doubt probably even said them to others. Whatever the context or sequence, “time” is a finite resource and indeed does matter. This is true in our everyday lives and the legal world as well.
It doesn’t matter whether you find yourself in the role of a plaintiff, seeking to remedy a wrong done to you or you find yourself as a defendant, defending yourself against an alleged wrong. The clock is ticking and one must take action in the time period provided by our legal system. This applies whether you are a tenant in a dispute with your landlord or a corporate executive with a breach of contract issue. Failure to act in time may result in serious consequences for those not keeping an eye on the clock.
As a plaintiff in a civil matter, there are periods that control the length of time one has to formally file a suit with the court. These time periods are known as Statutes of Limitation. Many of you have probably heard this phrase either in this news or perhaps in a TV courtroom drama.
Statutes of limitation also apply in the world of civil litigation. The length of time available varies depending on what type of claim you are pursuing. Some can be as short as 6 months while others can go on for many years. Regardless of what the time span for filing your particular claim may be, one aspect of these limitation periods is certain, failure to act within the time provided, often and generally extinguishes a party’s ability to seek a legal remedy based on that claim.
As a new lawyer, I have received many phone calls from members of the public seeking legal services as a potential plaintiff in a matter. One of the first things I ask the potential litigant is “when did this occur?” I can recall on one occasion, in response to that question the caller stated that it had been “nearly twenty years ago.” After doing some research on that particular claim, I had to let that potential plaintiff know that there was nothing I could do for him. The fact was, the individual may have indeed had a meritorious claim, but due to the passage of time, his ability to do was likely forever time-barred.
It is true that there are provisions in the law that will temporarily stop the ticking away of the applicable statute of limitations or provide for extra time, but these situations are limited by special circumstances and facts specific to each case. Even if one of these savings provisions will permit action after the time provided has lapsed, they generally require some supporting proof. Additionally, these procedures will likely increase your litigation costs.
Time also matters if you find yourself in the role of a defendant. There are specific time limits set when one must respond to a suit filed against them. Failure to act in the time provided in this instance may result in a judgment for your opponent, even if the claim is one that may have been defeated had it gone to trial.
These are just a few examples of how important time is in the legal field. The best practice is to seek professional legal advice either as soon as you believe you may have a legal claim or need to respond to someone who is asserting a claim against you. Always work with your lawyer and provide them with the material and information they need to promptly handle your case. Your lawyer is your advocate and your ally, just be sure to give him or her and your case, the “time” it deserves. And this time I promise no more bad “time” puns.
David Barry, Associate in the Chattanooga office, focuses on Litigation (Arson and Fire, Civil Rights, Construction and Real Estate, Employment Practices, Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith, Insurance Defense, Property and Casualty, and Trucking/Transportation), Liability (Automobile, Government, Premises, and Products), Appellate Practice, Employment, Medical and Pharmacy Malpractice, and Insurance Subrogation law.
This blog contains general information about legal matters. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Communication of information by, in, to, or through this blog and your receipt or use of it: (1) is not provided in the course of and does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship; (2) is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice; and (3) is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified attorney.