Monday, August 06, 2007

It Is Later Than You Think

The time limit to enforce your legal rights just got shorter. In a controversial and divided decision, the Michigan Supreme Court held that a daughter could not sue the convicted murderer of her mother. The killing occurred in1986, but the murderer was not identified and arrested until 2002, 16 years after the crime.

The daughter sued the murderer for damages. It is common knowledge that there is no statute of limitations for murder, but that is not the case for a wrongful death claim, which must be filed within three years of the person's death. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the daughter waited too long, even though she had no idea who to sue until the defendant was arrested.

Three of the seven judges on the court disagreed, stating that the daughter should have been allowed time to discover the facts before she was required to act. This "discovery" period, a long-standing part of our common law, has now been overruled, at least in this type of case. In this case, even the police did not identify the person until 13 years after the limitation period expired under this ruling.

This decision has a real impact on how you should act. If you have a claim to assert in court, your time to file that claim starts to run when the wrongful act occurred, not when you first learned what happened, or as in this case, who did it. The statute varies for different claims, such as 6 years in contract claims, 3 years for non-contract claims and 2 years for professional liability claims.

If you own a business and an employee leaves, you need to review that employee's actions quickly to determine if there was any theft, embezzlement, or whether the employee took information belonging to you (just a few examples). If you are in an accident, you need to investigate your injuries and possible damage claims immediately, so that if you do have a legitimate claim you can file suit on time. It has always been the law that if you wait too long and then find a wrongful act, your right to sue will have expired. Now the concept of "too long" has a different meaning.

What does this mean to you? Act now and see your attorney if you think you have a law suit to pursue, or simply to learn what time periods to be aware of in your business or personal life. Protect yourself by making sure you do not miss a deadline by accident.