What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Arizona?

Understand how the Arizona personal injury statute of limitations works, when you might get more time to sue, and the practical consequences of missing the deadline set by this law.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Arizona, like all states, has personal injury (PI) lawsuit filing deadlines called statutes of limitations. A statute of limitations is a claim killer. That's its only job, and it does that job with cutthroat efficiency. File your case in court after the deadline has expired and, absent an exception that gives you more time, your lawsuit will be dismissed. In the eyes of the law, your claim is legally dead.

We'll cover the basics of Arizona's personal injury statutes of limitations, starting with the two-year general rule. From there, we explain other filing deadlines that apply in particular cases, and we'll have a look at some situations where Arizona law extends the limitation period, giving you more time to sue.

Arizona's General Rule in Personal Injury Cases: Two Years

You'll find Arizona's general personal injury statute of limitations in Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-542 (2024). In most PI cases, you have two years from the date you're injured to file your lawsuit in court. Unless you find a statute of limitations that's a better fit (see examples below), this is the filing deadline that applies. It's the rule that covers cases involving:

Special Injury-Related Limitation Periods In Arizona

Some kinds of cases have their own statute of limitations. Here are some examples.

Lawsuits Brought Under Arizona's Dog-Bite Statute

When you're bitten or attacked by a dog, as mentioned above, you can sue the owner for being careless ("negligent," in legal-speak). But Arizona also has a dog-bite statute—Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 11-1025 (2024)—that makes a dog owner strictly liable for your injuries, even if the owner wasn't negligent. If you want to sue under this statute (and you do), you must file your lawsuit within one year from the date you're injured. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-541(5) (2024).)

Suing the Government or Its Employees

When your injuries were caused by the government, one of your first calls should be to an experienced government claims attorney. Suing the government or a government employee isn't like suing a private person or a business. Special filing deadlines and other procedures apply.

The statute of limitations. A lawsuit against any Arizona government—city, county, or state—or a government employee must, as a general rule, be filed in court within one year after the date you were injured. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-821 (2024).)

Pre-suit notice required. In addition, if you have a claim against the government, a government employee, or a public school, you must give written notice of your claim, usually within 180 days after the date you were injured. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-821.01 (2024).) Importantly, this written notice isn't the same thing as filing a lawsuit. You must provide this notice before you file a lawsuit. If you don't, you're prohibited from filing your case in court.

Certain Intentional Injuries

Under Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-541(1) (2024), you've got one year from the date of your injury to sue for:

Extending the Arizona Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

In some circumstances, Arizona law extends the lawsuit filing deadline, allowing you more time to sue. Keep in mind that these are exceptions to the statute of limitations rule. If you're relying on one of them, the burden will be on you to prove that it applies to the facts of your case.

Legal Disabilities

Some people aren't allowed to manage their own affairs without help or supervision from others, like a parent, guardian, or court. The law often refers to them as being "legally disabled" from taking certain actions, like filing a lawsuit. In Arizona, minors (those younger than 18 years old) and people who are of "unsound mind" are considered legally disabled.

Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-502 (2024) says that when a legally disabled person is injured, the statute of limitations clock doesn't start running right away. Instead, the lawsuit-filing deadline starts when the disability is removed—on the minor's 18th birthday or when a person of unsound mind is found to be mentally competent.

Defendant Leaves Arizona

When the defendant—the person who you're suing for your injuries—leaves Arizona before or after you're injured, the statute of limitations doesn't run for the time they're out of the state. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-501 (2024).)

The "Discovery Rule"

In most personal injury cases, the statute of limitations begins running on the date you're injured. But what happens if you're not aware of your injury when it happens? Sound far fetched? Consider this example.

You have abdominal surgery on June 1, 2022. The surgeon carelessly leaves a surgical sponge inside you during the operation. You have no idea it's there. On July 1, 2024, you go to your family doctor complaining of abdominal discomfort. The doctor orders an X-ray that shows the leftover sponge.

Because more than two years have elapsed since the date of your injury (June 1, 2022), under Arizona's two-year statute of limitations, your medical malpractice claim would be time-barred. This result, depriving you of legal rights when you didn't know—and couldn't have known—that you'd been injured, is obviously unfair.

To address this unfairness, Arizona follows the "discovery rule." When this rule applies, the statute of limitations doesn't start on the date you're injured. It begins running on the earlier of:

  • the date you discover your injury, or
  • the date you should have discovered your injury, had you been reasonably diligent.

Returning to our example, the statute of limitations on your malpractice claim wouldn't run from June 1, 2022. Assuming you'd been reasonably diligent, it would begin running on July 1, 2024, giving you more time to file your case.

A word of caution. If you plan to rely on the discovery rule for more time to sue, expect a vigorous challenge from the defendant. You'll need an experienced personal injury lawyer to make the legal arguments on your behalf.

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If you miss the filing deadline, you should contact an Arizona personal injury attorney right away to see if any exceptions might be available. Barring an exception, your legal claim is dead. Try to file your case in court and the defendant will ask the court to dismiss it. The court will have no choice but to grant that request.

You won't fare any better if you're trying to negotiate a settlement of your case before filing a lawsuit. Once you're prohibited from filing a lawsuit, all your negotiating leverage disappears. You have no way to force the legally responsible party to pay you compensation for your injuries. Absent a real threat or possibility of legal action, they won't pay you anything.

Get Help With Your Arizona Statute of Limitations Questions

Statutes of limitations are among the most complicated and difficult of all laws to understand and apply. And a mistake can be costly: You lose your right to seek compensation for your injuries, no matter how serious or disabling, forever. Lots of lawyers who don't specialize in filing lawsuits won't take on statute of limitations problems, because the risk of error is simply too high.

If you have questions about the statute of limitations in your case, your first call should be to an experienced Arizona personal injury attorney. When you're ready to look for help, here's how to find a lawyer who's right for you.

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