If you have been injured or you owe someone a debt, there is a certain of time in which a suit must be brought to recover damages for you injury or to hold you liable for the debt. This time period is known as the statute of limitations. Many of the applicable statute of limitations in Texas are codified in Section 16.001, et. seq. of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code (TCPRC).
The most common statute of limitations are the two year statute, section 16.003,TCPRC, applicable to personal injury actions and the four year statute, section 16.004, TCPRC, applicable to suits on contracts or debts.
In addressing the statute of limitations the most important thing that must be determined is when did the cause of action accrue. Accrual refers to the date when the limitations period begins to run, that is, when the person is legally entitled to bring a suit. For some causes of action the accrual date is defined by statute. For example in medical negligence cases the cause of action accrues on the date the breach of duty occurred or the date of last treatment. (Section 74.251, TCPRC) or in wrongful death cases the cause of action accrues when the person dies. (Section 16.003(b), TCPRC).
If there is no statute determining the accrual date, courts look to the common law for the accrual date. Under the common law the accrual date is determined either by the legal-injury rule or the continuing-tort doctrine. The legal injury rule provides that a cause of action accrues on the date the defendant caused the legal injury. A continuing tort involves a repeated injury that is proximately caused by repetitive wrongful acts. Under this doctrine, if the defendant commits a continuing tort, the cause of action accrues when the conduct ceases.
After the accrual date is determined, the next step is to determine whether the accrual date can be deferred. There are two ways in which the accrual date can be deferred: (1) the discovery rule and (2) fraudulent concealment. The discovery rule defers a cause of actions’ accrual date until the plaintiff knew or should of known of the facts giving rise to the claim. For the discovery rule to apply, the plaintiff must establish that the injury was inherently discoverable and objectively verifiable, To prove fraudulent concealment, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrong committed and engaged in conduct to conceal the truth. Concealment typically involves some type of misrepresentation.
After determining the cause of actions accrual date, the next issue is whether the statute of limitations has been tolled. Tolling, unlike deferral, refers to the suspension of the statute of limitations after the cause of action has accrued. For example, the statute of limitations does not begin to runs for persons who are minors until they turn eighteen or if you are in the military the limitations period is tolled for the period of time the person is in active service or on active duty. Once the event giving rise to the tolling of the statute ends the limitations period resumes and the statute of limitations period begins to run.
The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense and must be plead and proved by the defendant. To prevail on the defense the defendant must prove when the cause of action accrued and negate any issue as to whether the limitations period was deferred or tolled.
DISCLAIMER Information in this article is proved for general informational and educational purposes only and is not offered as legal advice upon which anyone may rely. The law changes. Legal counsel relating to your individual needs and circumstances is advisable before taking any action that has legal consequences. The Law Office of Stephen O’Rear, P.C. does not represent any person unless and until it is retained and agrees to provide such representation in writing.