What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Missouri?

Find out how long you have to file Missouri personal injury claims, when you might get more time, and what happens if you miss the filing deadline.

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

A "statute of limitations" is a law that puts a deadline on your time to file a lawsuit in court. It's a claim killer, in other words. Miss the filing deadline for your case and you're probably out of luck. So, if you've been injured by someone's misconduct, one of the first things you need to know is: How long do I have to sue?

We cover the basics, starting with Missouri's five-year general rule for personal injury (PI) cases. Not all PI cases are covered by this rule, though. We'll let you know about the filing deadlines for some common personal injury claims that fall under different rules. In a few instances, Missouri law extends the filing limit, giving you more time to sue. We'll provide examples. We close with a brief discussion of what happens to your case if you miss the statute of limitations.

Missouri's Personal Injury General Rule: Five Years From Date of Injury

You'll find Missouri's general rule for personal injury cases at Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.120(4) (2024). Unless a different statute of limitations is a better fit, you have five years—usually from the date you're injured—to file your lawsuit in court. This deadline covers lawsuits involving:

Different Rules for Other Kinds of Personal Injury Cases

Some kinds of personal injury cases have their own time limits. When a more specific rule exists, that's probably the applicable deadline. Here are some examples.

Medical Malpractice

Special rules apply when you've been injured by a health care provider. Generally speaking, the deadline to file a Missouri medical malpractice case is two years from the date of the malpractice. But the clock probably starts running later when the claim involves a misplaced foreign object, an unreported test result, or a patient who's a minor.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.105.1 (2024).)

Intentional Injuries

Most personal injury claims happen when the defendant (the party you're suing) negligently causes you some harm. Of course, injuries can also result from intentional wrongdoing. The law calls this an "intentional tort." Under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.140 (2024), you're allowed two years to sue for these (and other) intentional torts:

Injuries Causing Death

When personal injuries cause death, the victim's surviving family members might decide to sue for wrongful death damages. They have three years, usually starting on the date of death, to bring a Missouri wrongful death lawsuit.

Should the defendant leave Missouri, thus preventing the plaintiffs (the parties who are suing) from serving the defendant with the lawsuit, the time the defendant is absent from Missouri doesn't count toward the three-year limitation period.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.100.1 (2024).)

Can Missouri's Statutes of Limitations Deadlines Be Extended?

Yes, in some circumstances, Missouri law extends your time to file a PI lawsuit. Keep in mind that the examples we discuss are exceptions to the statute of limitations rules. It's your job to convince the court that you're entitled to more time. In most cases, the defendant will put up a big fight. That's not a battle you want to wage on your own. You should hire an attorney to represent you and make your arguments to the judge.

Damages Capable of Ascertainment

In most personal injury cases, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.100 (2024) controls when the filing deadline clock starts running. Your personal injury claim has "accrued," meaning the clock has started, when:

  • you've "sustained" an injury ("damage," in the language of the law), and
  • your damage is "capable of ascertainment."

What, exactly, does that mean? It means that in most cases, you're "on the clock" on the date you were injured. For example, say you suffer a broken leg in a car accident or a slip and fall. You've "sustained" the damage, and because you'll immediately know you've been hurt, your damages are "capable of ascertainment" as well. Even if you can't say exactly how much your damages will be—on the date of the accident, you don't know how much your medical bills or lost wages will end up being—you have enough facts to know that you've been damaged. That's all it takes to start the statute of limitations.

But what if you don't know right away that you've been injured? How does this rule work? You've "sustained" an injury. You're simply not aware of it. If you don't have any facts suggesting you've been hurt in some way, your damages probably aren't "capable of ascertainment" at that point. Once you have some facts that would indicate to a reasonable person they've been injured, the clock probably starts.

Age or Legal Disability

A person who's younger than 21 years old or "mentally incapacitated" gets extra time to sue. Under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.170 (2024), the limitation period starts running on the date:

  • the person turns 21, or
  • the mental incapacity is "removed."

These exceptions don't apply in medical malpractice cases.

Defendant Is Absent From Missouri

Suppose you're injured by someone who lives in Missouri, but who then flees the state in an effort to avoid your lawsuit. Missouri law anticipates that situation. When you're injured by a defendant who lives in Missouri but who later leaves the state, the statute of limitations as to that defendant doesn't run during the period they're out of state. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.200 (2024).)

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

Worried that the filing deadline for your personal injury case has expired or is about to expire very soon? Your first call should be to a Missouri personal injury lawyer. You want to know:

  • what the statute of limitations is for your claim
  • whether the filing deadline has passed, and
  • if the deadline has passed, whether there's an exception that might give you more time.

If the statute of limitations has run out and no exception applies, then your claim is legally dead. There's nothing you can do to bring it back to life, no matter how serious, permanent, or disabling your injuries might be. The court will dismiss as untimely any lawsuit you file. Even worse, the defendant might ask the court to sanction (penalize) you for filing a frivolous action.

You'll do no better if you're trying to negotiate a settlement of your claim without having filed suit. Once the lawsuit deadline has passed, your negotiating leverage disappears. You no longer have a credible threat of legal action to back you up, so neither the defendant nor its insurance company will take you seriously. There's no way to force them to pay you, and they certainly won't volunteer to write you a check.

Get Help With Your Statute of Limitations Questions

Trying to navigate your way through statute of limitations issues is a bit like trying to cross a busy highway while blindfolded. A mistake can be devastating, and you won't know you've erred until its too late. Don't take chances with your legal claim. Get advice from an attorney who knows Missouri's statutes of limitations, their exceptions, and how the rules apply to your case.

When you're ready to hire legal counsel, here's how you can find a lawyer near you. Don't delay, because time is the enemy of your personal injury case.

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