What Is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Virginia?

What you need to know about Virginia's personal injury statutes of limitations, when you might get more time to sue, and what happens if you don't file in time.

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

"How long do I have to sue?"

If that question or something close to it is what brought you here, you're in the right place. We'll explain Virginia's personal injury "statutes of limitations," laws that put a deadline on your time to file a case in court.

Can the time limit ever be extended? Yes, in a few situations. We provide examples of some oft-invoked extensions. Finally, we cover what happens to your claim if you don't file your personal injury lawsuit in time.

Virginia's General Rule: Two Years From Date of Injury

The statute of limitations for most Virginia personal injury claims is two years. (Va. Code § 8.01-243.A (2024).) As a rule, the clock starts ticking on the date you're injured. (Va. Code § 8.01-230 (2024).) In some situations (discussed below), Virginia law extends the filing deadline.

What's Covered by This Rule?

Unless the injuries cause death, this rule applies to lawsuits for:

Special Rules in Certain Cases

Special rules might apply in product liability and medical malpractice cases. We cover the highlights here. But as with all statute of limitations issues, you should speak to a lawyer for advice specific to your case.

Product liability actions. When injuries result from exposure to asbestos or asbestos-containing products, the statute of limitations doesn't start until a physician communicates the diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease or injury to the injured person. When asbestos-related injury or disease causes death, the lawsuit deadline is two years from the date of death. (Va. Code § 8.01-249.4 (2024).)

If an injury caused by a product or a substance is "latent," meaning it can't be diagnosed before the limitation period expires, the statute of limitations runs from the earlier of the date the injured person knew of the injury and its cause, or should have known of the injury and its cause. Here too, the lawsuit deadline for a disease or injury causing death is two years after the date of death. (Va. Code § 8.01-249.4a (2024).)

Medical malpractice cases. When the injured patient is a child younger than eight years old, a malpractice case can be filed on or before the child's 10th birthday. (Va. Code § 8.01-243.1 (2024).)

An injured patient gets more time to sue when the malpractice involves:

  • a foreign object carelessly left in the patient's body
  • fraud or misrepresentation that prevents the patient from discovering the malpractice, or
  • negligent failure to diagnose a malignant tumor or cancer.

In each of these cases, the patient has one year from the date they discovered or should have discovered the malpractice to file a lawsuit.

(Va. Code § 8.01-243.C (2024).)

Other Virginia Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations

Virginia's two-year general rule applies to most, but not all, personal injury lawsuits. Here are a couple more you might encounter.

Defamation of Character

You might sue for defamation of character if someone makes an untrue statement of fact about you that harms your reputation in the community. But don't wait too long. As a rule, the lawsuit-filing deadline is one year for "libel" (written defamation) or "slander" (spoken defamation).

There's an important exception to this one-year limitation period when the person who defames you speaks anonymously or uses a false name on the internet. In that case, the statute of limitations is "tolled" (it doesn't run) until the earlier of:

  • the date you discover the person's identity, or
  • the date you should have discovered their identity, had you been reasonably diligent about looking for it.

(Va. Code § 8.01-247.1 (2024).)

Wrongful Death

When personal injuries lead to death, the victim's surviving relatives might sue for wrongful death damages. The deadline to file a Virginia wrongful death case is two years, beginning on the date of death. (Va. Code § 8.01-244.B (2024).)

Extending Virginia's Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations Deadlines

In addition to the special rules for product liability and medical malpractice cases mentioned above, Virginia law sometimes extends the lawsuit-filing deadline, giving you more time to sue. Here are two common examples.

Injured Person Is Legally Disabled

Because a legally disabled person can't manage their own legal affairs, they often get more time to file a personal injury lawsuit. For Virginia statute of limitations purposes, these people are considered legally disabled:

  • those younger than 18 years old, unless a court has declared them emancipated, and
  • those found by a court or a jury to be "incapacitated," except when a guardian or conservator has been appointed for them.

Other than as mentioned above or provided elsewhere in Virginia law, the statute of limitations doesn't run during any period of legal disability. The deadline clock starts (or resumes) when the disability ends.

(Va. Code § 8.01-229.A (2024).)

Defendant Obstructs Your Ability to Sue

Unsurprisingly, defendants don't like getting sued. Sometimes, they'll take steps to prevent you from suing them. For example, a defendant can stall legal proceedings by filing for bankruptcy. Some defendants will flee the state, hoping to avoid being served with a lawsuit.

The statute of limitations probably gets put on hold during any period the defendant takes steps to obstruct your ability to sue them. Your lawyer can provide details on when this extension does and doesn't apply.

(Va. Code § 8.01-229.D (2024).)

What If You Miss Virginia's Lawsuit Filing Deadline?

So you think the time to file your Virginia personal injury lawsuit has passed, or is about to run out very soon? Don't panic. Your first call should be to a Virginia personal injury lawyer. Here are the three questions you should ask.

  • First, what is the statute of limitations on my claim?
  • Second, has the filing deadline passed, or is it about to expire?
  • Third, if the time to file has run (or is about to), is there an extension that will give me more time?

Keep in mind that lawyers make their living by favorably arguing the facts of their clients' cases. If there's a good faith basis to extend your lawsuit filing deadline, chances are your lawyer will spot it. It might be a longshot—courts are understandably reluctant to find exceptions to statutes of limitations—but some chance is better than none.

If the statute of limitations has expired and you can't benefit from any extension, then your personal injury claim is dead. Unfortunately, nothing you do will bring it back to life. Try to file a lawsuit and the court will dismiss it as untimely. Worse yet, the defendant might ask the court to "sanction" (penalize) you for filing a frivolous case.

You won't have any better luck trying to negotiate a settlement without filing suit. There's nothing to settle because as far as Virginia is concerned, you no longer have a claim. Once the filing deadline has passed, you lose your negotiating leverage. You can't force the defendant to pay you, and they're not going to write you a check voluntarily.

Get Help With Your Virginia Statute of Limitations Problem

Above all else, here's what you should take from this article: Don't risk losing your right to seek compensation because of lawsuit filing deadlines. Trying to find your way alone through statute of limitations problems is like trying to navigate through a minefield while blindfolded. Even the tiniest misstep can end in disaster, and you probably won't know you've made a mistake until its too late.

An experienced personal injury lawyer knows Virginia's statutes of limitations and how they apply to your claim. When you're ready to move forward, here's how to find an attorney near you.

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