What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Massachusetts?

Learn about the strict time limits that apply to California personal injury claims, the consequences of missing the deadline, and the rare situations where you can ask for more time.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

If you've been hurt by someone else's careless or intentional behavior, you may want to seek compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit. In Massachusetts, state law sets a strict deadline requiring an injured person to file any personal injury case within three years of the incident. There are rare exceptions to this deadline, but usually a plaintiff who doesn't file in time will permanently lose their right to a legal remedy. So it's crucial to know how Massachusetts's filing deadlines apply to you, and to make sure you don't wait too long to begin your case.

Massachusetts Has a Three-Year Filing Deadline For Most Personal Injury Cases

Like all states, Massachusetts sets strict deadlines for filing lawsuits in civil court. These deadlines, called statutes of limitations, vary depending on the kind of case you want to file. Under Massachusetts law, nearly all injury-related lawsuits must be filed within three years. This three-year deadline applies to:

  • negligence cases (for example, slip-and-fall lawsuits) where the plaintiff must show that they were harmed by the defendant's carelessness
  • intentional tort cases (for example, battery or defamation) where the plaintiff must show that they were harmed by the defendant's deliberate act.

So, with rare exceptions that we'll discuss below, you must file the complaint in a personal injury lawsuit no later than three years from the date you were hurt.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 2A (2023).)

The Consequences of Missing Massachusetts's Personal Injury Filing Deadline

If you file your lawsuit after the deadline imposed by the statute of limitations, it will almost certainly be dismissed. Unless you're one of the rare plaintiffs who can argue that they're entitled to additional time, you will have lost your legal right to seek compensation ("damages," in legal terms) from the person who harmed you.

A judge decides whether the statute of limitations has been met without looking at the strength or importance of the plaintiff's underlying case. That means, for example, that you can't argue you deserve more time because you suffered particularly severe financial hardships because of your injuries. You also can't argue that an exception should be made because the defendant is obviously responsible for the accident.

Massachusetts's personal injury statute of limitations is obviously pivotal if you want to take your case to court. But keep in mind that the filing deadline set by this law is also crucial to your position in personal injury settlement negotiations. In general, being prepared to sue gives you leverage in these negotiations. It shows the other side that the alternative to an agreement could be a time-consuming and costly lawsuit. On the other hand, the longer you wait the less likely it is that the other side will take your claim seriously. And, once the filing deadline has passed, the other side will have no legal reason to negotiate with you at all.

Exceptions to the Massachusetts Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

Massachusetts has identified a number of scenarios where it would be unfair to hold a plaintiff to the usual three-year filing deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit. In some cases the statute of limitations "clock" might start to run well after the plaintiff is injured, instead of on the date of the injuries. In other cases the clock might be stopped for a period of time.

Here are some examples of circumstances that are likely to modify the standard three-year deadline:

  • Minors and the mentally ill. Children and people with severe mental illness are not able to assert their legal rights in the same way as most adults. For this reason, if someone is harmed while they're under 18, or incapacitated by mental illness, the statute of limitations clock does not start at the time of the injury. Instead, it starts when the child turns 18, or the person recovers from their illness.
  • Defendants who leave the state. Because it can be difficult or impossible to pursue a lawsuit against someone who lives out of state, the three-year clock is paused while a prospective defendant is not in Massachusetts.
  • The "discovery rule." In some cases a person does not immediately know (and could not have been expected to know) that they've suffered an injury. This can happen, for example, if someone takes a medication with serious and undisclosed long-term side effects. In situations like this, the deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit is measured from when the person discovered (or should have discovered) the harm they've suffered.
  • Fraudulent concealment. Sometimes a potential defendant will attempt to hide their responsibility for the harm they've inflicted on another person. They can do this either by covering up the harm itself, or by concealing their identify. Massachusetts calls this "fraudulently concealment." In cases like this a plaintiff's deadline for filing a lawsuit is measured from when they learned that they were harmed by the defendant.

In general, medical malpractice lawsuits in Massachusetts use the same three-year deadline (and allow many of the same exceptions) as other personal injury cases. But the rules for Massachusetts medical malpractice cases, including how some of the filing deadlines work, are different in crucial ways from the usual rules for personal injury cases. If you think you've been harmed by a doctor or other health care provider, make sure you understand how these rules apply to your situation.

(Khatchatourian v. Encompass Ins. Co. of Massachusetts, 78 Mass. App. Ct. 53, 57 (2010); (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 7 (2023); (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 9 (2023); (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 12 (2023).)

Learn More About Massachusetts's Statute of Limitations

If you're considering a personal injury lawsuit, and have questions about the timing, you can consult a local attorney who handles these kinds of cases. An experienced personal injury lawyer should be able to advise you on whether you're within Massachusetts's standard statute of limitations, or if you have a good argument for why you deserve additional time. Even if the filing deadline isn't a concern for you now, it can be helpful to work with an attorney to decide the best way to move forward. The sooner you know your legal options, the less likely it is that your case will be affected by the statute of limitations.

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