Suppose you have a dispute over a financial or business transaction with another individual or a company. In that case, you need to be mindful of the statute of limitations if you intend to take legal action against them. The statute of limitations regulates the period someone can file after an incident occurs.
Many people have heard the term "statute of limitations" without fully understanding the meaning. That is understandable because the statute of limitations is not uniform. Different states -- and even different courts -- have wildly disparate time limitations for filing litigation in small claims courts.
Don't Let an Expired Statute of Limitations Tank Your Case
You aren't an attorney and can't be expected to know everything about the law. That is why the burden of proof is less in small claims court than it is in a civil or circuit court.
But that doesn't mean that you don't have to abide by the court's rules. Statutes of limitations can make or break cases.
If you (the plaintiff) have a cause of action to sue a person or business (the defendant), failing to file a claim for damages within the time outlined in the statute of limitations.
Could Your Case Run Afoul of the Statute of Limitations?
It definitely could if you don't timely file your petition for damages in small claims court. This website gives the statute of limitations for small claims courts in all 50 states.
However, plaintiffs in small claims court must also exercise due diligence by verifying that the information is up to date and accurate.
Fortunately, that is relatively easy to do. You can call the small claims court and ask the clerk about deadlines. Many of these courts also have their own websites you can access to learn useful information about navigating the small claims court system.
In some instances, that information may be found with the Clerk of Court for the civil division of your local circuit or district court.
When Does the Clock Start Ticking on Your Case?
Regardless of the specific circumstances from which your cause of action arose, a plaintiff's timeline to file begins on the date of the accident or incident that caused the alleged damage.
If the suit deals with a breach of contract, small claims courts would typically start the clock when the breach was said to occur.
Statutes of limitations for bad debts through personal loans likely begin when the first payment wasn't made. If a landlord kept a damage deposit when a tenant moved out of a clean, undamaged apartment, that tenant could assume the clock starting ticking when they vacated the premises.
Should You File Your Cause of Action Sooner Rather than Later?
There is nothing for the tenant to gain by delaying filing a small claims case in most cases. Witnesses move away, change jobs, forget vital details. Documents get lost and video evidence gets taped over.
But you don't want to be so hasty that you don't take the time to present an organized and coherent case. Most small claims courts do not allow attorneys to litigate the cases for clients.
But there are no prohibitions against exploring all your legal options. Seek the guidance you need to present a winnable case to the small claims court judge.
At Dispute, the small claims filing process is made easy and affordable through our app. Let the app manage all of the paperwork, court dates, and filing. All you have to do is check your user dashboard for updates on your case. Our tools make it easy to manage the details for any state and county. All you need to do is put together evidence and show up for your day in court.