A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a strict time limit on a plaintiff's right to file a lawsuit in civil court. When a plaintiff misses the cutoff date, the defendant can use the statute of limitations as a defense against any civil lawsuit that's filed. If the defendant establishes that the statute of limitations applies and has indeed “run,” the court will normally dismiss the case, unless some rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline.
(This article is about statutes of limitations in New York civil cases. For information about criminal cases, see our article on criminal statutes of limitations in New York.)
Time Limits on Lawsuits
For statute-of-limitations purposes, the clock normally starts to tick when the claim arises. Courts sometimes refer to this starting point as the “accrual” of the “cause of action”; it’s the moment at which the plaintiff has a basis to sue. (Certain events and circumstances can delay or “toll” statutes of limitations, essentially lengthening the time period for bringing a claim.)
Assume one person wants to sue another for assault and battery. Assume also that the statute of limitations for assault and battery is two years. The plaintiff would have two years from the date of the underlying incident (the day he or she was hit by the defendant) to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Statutes of limitations can vary from state to state, and from state court to federal court. They also differ depending on the kind of case you want to file, or the subject matter of the lawsuit.
Statutes of Limitations in New York
Below you’ll find details on the statute of limitations for a variety of civil claims in New York, including citations to the specific statute so you can learn more. (Be aware that statutes change, and that court rulings determine the way statutes are interpreted; court rulings can even make statutes or parts of them unenforceable.)
Keep in mind that the following is a partial list with broad overviews; you should look at the actual law for nuances and exceptions. For example, either because the statute says so or a court has decided as much, a limitations period can start to run from the point that the plaintiff knew or should have known of an injury, rather than the date of the injury itself. A statute might even provide, for instance, that you have two years to bring an action from the date you knew or should have known that you suffered some kind of harm, but in no event do you have more than six years from the date of the event in question. Examining the law would provide you with that level of detail.
Also, even if one of the causes of action below seems to apply, you might have grounds for a different or an additional claim with its own statute of limitations. Not only that, but a more specific statute of limitations than what’s below could control your case—perhaps a statute of limitations for mortgage foreclosure rather than one for contracts.
Make sure to consult a lawyer for a better understanding of all time limits that apply to your situation and any possibilities for extending the applicable deadline. Rules might differ when the action is against the government. Or you might have to take a specific procedural step before being able to sue, in certain kinds of cases. In short, the law in this area is complicated.