What Is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in New Jersey?

You have a limited amount of time to file a New Jersey personal injury lawsuit. Learn about the filing deadlines, when they can be extended, and what happens if you miss your deadline.

By , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Thinking about filing a New Jersey personal injury lawsuit? One of the first questions you should ask is "How much time do I have to file my case in court?" That's the focus of this article.

We explain the state's personal injury case filing deadlines. In a few situations, you can get more time to file your lawsuit in court. We review some common examples. Finally, we close with a discussion of what happens to your personal injury case if you miss the filing deadline.

New Jersey's Personal Injury General Rule: Two Years From Date of Injury

A "statute of limitations" puts a deadline on your time to file a lawsuit in court. Miss the deadline and, absent an extension that gives you more time, you've forever lost the right to recover compensation ("damages") for your claim.

New Jersey has several personal injury statutes of limitations. Most often, the deadline to file a New Jersey personal injury lawsuit is two years. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:14-2(a) (2024).) The statute of limitations clock usually starts running on the date you were injured, though in some circumstances (discussed below) it might start later.

This is the rule you're likely to follow in cases involving:

Other New Jersey Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations

New Jersey's general rule doesn't apply in all personal injury cases. Here are some other statutes of limitations that cover different kinds of lawsuits.

Defamation of Character

When someone makes a false statement of fact about you that harms your reputation in the community, you might have a claim for defamation of character. But you need to act fast. For written defamation (libel) or spoken defamation (slander), N.J. Stat. § 2A:14-3 (2024) gives you just one year to sue. The limitation period normally starts on the date a defamatory statement about you is first made.

Wrongful Death

Personal injuries sometimes result in death. Should that happen, the victim's estate might file suit to recover wrongful death damages. With one exception, a New Jersey wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years from the date of death.

The exception? When death results from murder, aggravated manslaughter, or manslaughter, there's no time limit on the right to sue. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:31-3 (2024).)

No Other Statute of Limitations Applies

When there's no other personal injury statute of limitations that covers your case, N.J. Stat. § 2A:14-1(a) (2024) gives you six years to sue.

Can New Jersey's Personal Injury Filing Deadline Be Extended?

In some situations, yes, New Jersey law extends the filing deadline, giving you more time to sue. As you review these examples, keep in mind that they're exceptions to New Jersey's statutes of limitations. The burden will be on you to prove that an exception should apply. In most instances, the defendant (the party you're suing) will object to you being allowed more time to file.

This isn't a fight you want to take on alone. Consider hiring legal counsel to represent you and make your arguments to the court.

The Discovery Rule

As mentioned above, the statute of limitations normally starts running on the date you're injured. Because you probably know you've been injured as soon as it happens, there's nothing unfair about starting the clock on that date. Your awareness of an injury puts you on notice right away that you have a potential legal claim.

But what if you don't discover your injury on the date it happens? For example, suppose you had abdominal surgery on March 1, 2021. During the surgery, the doctor carelessly left a surgical sponge inside your body. The doctor said nothing and you felt fine for more than two years after the operation.

On October 15, 2023, you saw your family doctor for complaints of abdominal pain. An X-ray that day showed the left-behind surgical sponge. If the date of injury (March 1, 2021) marks the beginning of New Jersey's two-year statute of limitations, your time to sue expired on March 1, 2023—more than seven months before you discovered your doctor's error. That result is clearly unfair.

To mitigate the effects of that unfairness, New Jersey has adopted the "discovery rule." Under this rule, when you don't know you've been hurt, and when you couldn't have discovered your injury in time even if you'd diligently looked for signs and symptoms of it, the statute of limitations doesn't start running on the date you were injured. Instead, it runs from the earlier of the date you:

  • discovered your potential legal claim, or
  • should have discovered your potential legal claim, had you been reasonably careful.

(See Lopez v. Swyer, 62 N.J. 267, 273-74 (1973).)

If the discovery rule applies, the statute of limitations clock starts ticking on the date you're "aware of facts that would alert a reasonable person to the possibility of an actionable claim." (Catena v. Raytheon Co., 447 N.J. Super. 43, 54 (2016) (internal quotation omitted.)

Injured Person Is Legally Incapacitated

A person who's legally incapacitated—in New Jersey, those younger than 18 and anyone with a "mental disability" that prevents them from understanding their legal rights or filing a lawsuit—gets more time to sue. Specifically, the statute of limitations doesn't begin to run until:

  • the person turns 18 years old, or
  • the mental disability ends.

(N.J. Stat. § 2A:14-21 (2024).)

Defendant Is Absent From New Jersey

If the defendant lives outside New Jersey when you're injured or leaves the state after injuring you, and when their absence prevents you from getting "service of process" on them, their period of absence doesn't count against your filing deadline. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:14-22 (2024).)

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

What should you do if you think the statute of limitations for your case has run out, or you're worried that the deadline is about to pass? First, here's what not to do: Don't panic. Your first call should be to a New Jersey personal injury lawyer. Ask these questions.

  • What is the statute of limitations for my case?
  • Has the filing deadline passed, or is it about to expire very soon?
  • If your time to sue has run out (or is about to), is an extension possible?

Remember that lawyers earn their living by favorably arguing the facts of their clients' cases. If there's a way to argue the facts so that you get more time to file your case, odds are your lawyer will spot it.

If the limitation period has run out and no extension is available, then your legal claim is dead. In they eyes of New Jersey law, it no longer exists. Try to file a lawsuit and the defendant will ask the court to dismiss it as untimely. The court will have to grant that request.

You won't have any better luck trying to settle your case without filing suit. Because your claim no longer exists, there's nothing to settle. Neither the defendant nor its insurance company will take you, or your case, seriously. You can't force them to pay you, and they're not going to write you a check voluntarily.

Get Help With Your New Jersey Statute of Limitations Issues

Statutes of limitations are among the most complex and difficult to understand of all laws. It's easy to make a costly mistake, one that forever prevents you from seeking damages for your injuries. Don't take needless chances. Your best chance for success will come from having legal counsel in your corner.

When you're ready to move forward with your case, here's you you can find a personal injury lawyer near you.

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