The Virginia Verdict Review

Comprehensive and Informative Commentary on State and Federal Legal Matters

Timing It Right: How understanding Va. statutes of limitations can save you time, effort, and money

When it comes to understanding and exercising your legal rights, one of the most important items for Virginians to understand is the statute of limitations.   In the Commonwealth, these statutes are designed to protect parties from the perpetual threat of  lawsuits by preventing claims from being filed in cases where a number of years have passed since the alleged action took place.  The reasoning behind this is simple: if it has been a more than a few years since the alleged breach of contract, accident, destruction of property, etc. , then it is reasonable to assume that the evidence in the case has gone “stale” and that witnesses can no longer give reliable testimony as to what actually occurred.  Additionally, since laws and legal precedents change over time, a statute of limitations (SOL) also functions to prevent old cases from being tried under new laws that were not in effect at the time of the alleged wrong-doing.

However reasonable and logical this  may be, the main thing for the average Virginian to keep in mind is that statues of limitations must be heeded if you want to preserve your right to seek damages in a court of law.  More bluntly (and ironically), if you do not have a working knowledge of Virginia’s SOLs, then you are likely to be S.O.L when you get around to filing a lawsuit.

That being said, here is a quick list of a few of the most common statutes of limitations, as defined in Virginia:

Breach of contract where the contract is a written contract = 5 years*

-Breach of contract where the contract is an oral or implied contract = 3 years*

-Personal injury claims or property damage claims = 2 years

*IMPORTANT NOTE: For cases that involve a breach of contract (written, oral, or implied), the statute of limitations is deemed to begin when 1) the contract was breached or 2) when it is reasonable to assume that you should have noticed that the contract was breached.  While small, this distinction can be very important in cases involving contractor fraud and the like, because if you do not treat every small leak or problem as important and, therefore, fail to address it sufficiently when you first notice it, you have still effectively begun the countdown until your statue of limitations runs.  In such a case, the fact that you did not act to fix the problem sufficiently when you first noticed it could prevent you from filing a lawsuit against the contractor when that “little leak” turns into a flooded basement or much larger problem 3 0r 5 years down the road.

As the above example illustrates, it is critical that you are aware of the amount of time you have to file suit under Virginia law.  Whether it be for breach of contract with a contractor, or for damages resulting from a car accident, you should always consult an attorney as soon you become aware of the problem and realize that a “quick fix” will not get the job done.

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