In most cases you cannot file a personal injury lawsuit once the statute of limitations has run. However, in some types of cases, the clock may have started much later than you would expect.
A statute of limitations sets a firm deadline on how much time you have to file a lawsuit in civil court, after you have suffered some type of harm. Different kinds of cases have different deadlines, and every state carries its own laws, but for personal injury cases the deadline is typically somewhere around two to six years after the injury.
There are a few instances where the "clock" might be stopped or "tolled" when it comes to the statute of limitations.
The "discovery rule" will extend the deadline inasmuch as the clock doesn't start running until the injured person should reasonably have figured out that they were injured. An example of this is asbestos cases where mesothelioma or some other asbestos-caused illness does not present until decades after the plaintiff's exposure to the materials that contained asbestos. This type of "extension" often applies in cases of chemical or toxin exposure.
For plaintiffs who are minors at the time they were injured, most states allow the person to reach the age of 18 before the clock starts running. So, if you're injured in a car accident as a 15 year-old passenger in California (where the statute of limitations on personal injury cases is two years), you'll have until your 20th birthday to file a lawsuit.
There are a rare few types of civil cases where the statute of limitations is extended. For example, in Connecticut, civil claims for childhood sexual abuse can be brought until the victim reaches the age of 48. An attorney can advise you if there are special rules that may apply in a given case.
If you think you might have a personal injury lawsuit, it’s crucial to understand and abide by the statute of limitations. Failure to do so will likely result in the loss of your right to make your claims in court.