You've been injured in Montana and are thinking about filing a personal injury (PI) insurance claim or lawsuit. But like most people, you don't know much about the Montana laws and rules that apply to your case. Here's your chance to learn the basics.
We'll walk you through some of the laws you're likely to encounter, including Montana's statutes of limitations, the rules that apply when you're partly to blame for an accident, caps on PI damages, and more.
Montana, like every state, has enacted "statutes of limitations" that put deadlines on your time to file a lawsuit in court. The statute of limitations clock starts running when your claim "accrues." Most personal injury claims accrue on the date you're injured—if you know right away that you've been hurt.
What happens if you don't discover your injury until later? Montana's "discovery rule" might give you extra time to file a lawsuit. Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations doesn't start running until you discover your injury, or you should have discovered it had you been reasonably diligent.
(Mont. Code § 27-2-102 (2023).)
Deadline in most PI cases. In most personal injury cases, you have three years to file suit. (Mont. Code § 27-2-204(1) (2023).)
Intentional torts. Certain lawsuits involving intentional torts—deliberate misconduct that causes injury—must be filed within two years. The intentional torts covered by this rule include:
(Mont. Code § 27-2-204(3) (2023).)
Medical malpractice. A medical malpractice case must be filed within two years after the later of:
Regardless of when (or if) you discover your injury, Montana law says the latest you can sue for medical malpractice is five years after the date of your injury. This deadline, called a "statute of repose," can be "tolled" (temporarily paused) if the responsible health care provider knows of the malpractice but fails to disclose it to you.
When a very young child (under four years old) is injured by medical malpractice, the limitation period doesn't start to run until the child's eighth birthday or the child dies, whichever happens first.
(Mont. Code § 27-2-205 (2023).)
Legal malpractice. Under Mont. Code § 27-2-206 (2023), the limitation period on a lawsuit for legal malpractice is three years from the later of:
Here, too, Montana has a statute of repose. Regardless of when (or if) you discover the legal malpractice, you can't file suit later than 10 years after the date of the malpractice.
Extending the limitation period: Legal disability. When an injured person is legally disabled, the limitation period is extended. For purposes of this rule, a minor or a person who has been committed by a court for treatment of a mental illness is considered disabled. The extension can't be longer than five years when the disability results from mental illness. (Mont. Code § 27-2-401 (2023).)
Tolling the limitation period: Absence from Montana. The statute of limitations is tolled for any period when the person who injured you (the "defendant") is absent from Montana and can't be served with your lawsuit. (Mont. Code § 27-2-402 (2023).)
Suing Montana or a Montana local government isn't the same as suing a private individual or a business. Before you can file a lawsuit in court, you must give written notice of your claim.
Montana law says that before you can sue the state, you must deliver written notice of your claim to the state's Department of Administration. (Mont. Code § 2-9-301(1) (2023).) You then have to wait to sue until the first of these things to happen:
If your claim is against a Montana local government, the same claim notice requirement applies, except that you must file your notice with the clerk or secretary of the local government. (Mont. Code § 2-9-301(3) (2023).) Local government websites often have more information. For example, here's the Missoula claims page.
There aren't any special statutes of limitations for suits against Montana or most local governments. (Mont. Code § 2-9-302 (2023).) But the deadline for filing suit against a Montana county is six months after the county commission first rejects your notice of claim. (Mont. Code § 27-2-209(3) (2023).)
Montana law limits the compensation (called "damages") you're allowed to collect in a lawsuit against the government. Montana caps the government's damages liability at:
(Mont. Code § 2-9-108(1) (2023).)
Finally, you can't collect punitive damages from Montana or a Montana local government. (Mont. Code § 2-9-105 (2023).)
To collect damages in a typical personal injury claim, you must prove that the defendant's negligence caused your injuries. Quite often, the defendant will argue that you, too, were negligent and that your negligence should reduce the damages you can recover. This defense, called "comparative negligence," is available in Montana.
Montana's comparative negligence rule. Under Montana law, your damages are reduced by your percentage share of the total negligence—but only as long as you weren't mostly to blame for the accident. If you were 51% or more at fault, you can't collect any damages. (Mont. Code § 27-1-702 (2023).)
A personal injury case is a type of civil lawsuit. It's controlled by the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure and other Montana laws. Chances are you're not familiar with these rules, and the time to learn them isn't while you're trying to file your own case. You should hire an experienced Montana PI lawyer to handle the lawsuit for you.
File in District Court. Most PI lawsuits are filed in the Montana District Court, the court that's authorized to hear criminal and civil cases. In addition to the rules of civil procedure mentioned above, you'll also need to be familiar with the Uniform District Court Rules, as well as the local rules for the district court where you file your case.
The rules require that you file your lawsuit in the correct district court. In most PI cases involving an individual defendant who lives in Montana, you'll file in the county where the defendant lives. (Mont. Code § 25-2-118 (2023).) Special rules apply if the defendant doesn't live in Montana or if you're suing the government.
The complaint starts your lawsuit. You start your personal injury lawsuit by filing a complaint with the clerk of the district court. (Mont. R. Civ. Proc. 3 (2023).) The contents of your complaint will depend on a number of factors, including the kind of PI case you're filing and the defendant you're suing. Be sure to check the rules so you know what you must (and must not) include.
In general, the complaint should describe, in separately numbered paragraphs:
Once you've filed the complaint, you'll need to serve each defendant with a copy of the complaint and a summons—an order commanding the defendant to appear in court and defend the case. (See Mont. R. Civ. Proc. 4 (2023).) The court can dismiss a defendant who hasn't been properly served.
In addition to damage caps in lawsuits against the government (discussed above), Montana also limits other damages you're allowed to recover.
Medical malpractice damages. Montana is one of several states that limits, or "caps," the damages you can collect in a medical malpractice case. Specifically, noneconomic (also called "general") damages—which compensate you for injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, and more—are capped at $250,000.
This cap is per-patient and per-malpractice "incident." It applies regardless of the number of defendants. The jury can't be told about the cap.
(Mont. Code § 25-9-411 (2023).)
Punitive damages. Punitive damages are capped at the lesser of $10 million or 3% of the defendant's net worth. (Mont. Code § 27-1-220 (2023).) Courts rarely award punitive damages in PI cases.
If you're looking for legal advice that's tailored to your situation, talk to a personal injury lawyer in your area. You can also learn more about personal injury lawsuits, settlements, alternatives to resolving your case in court, and more:
- Steps in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
- Determining Fault in a Personal Injury Case
- What Are Mediation and Arbitration?
- Tips for Getting the Best Personal Injury Settlement
- The Cost of Taking Your Personal Injury Case to Court
- The Deposition in a Personal Injury Case
- Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer or Handle Your Own Claim?
- Common Kinds of Personal Injury Cases