Time Limits In Minnesota Personal Injury Cases

July 1, 2022

If you’re looking to file a lawsuit, you don’t have an unlimited amount of time to do so, as statutes of limitations place deadlines on when a lawsuit must be initiated after the date of injury.  Failure to initiate suit within the applicable deadline can result in that suit being forever barred.   

Statutes of limitations exist for many reasons, but primarily, they’re designed to make sure that evidence remains fresh. As more time passes, witnesses are less likely to recall critical information, and physical evidence may become lost or misplaced. Furthermore, if a case goes to trial, older evidence may not seem as credible to a jury as more recent information.

What is the Minnesota statute of limitations? 

Minnesota has a complex set of deadlines that can apply in personal injury cases.  There are different limitations periods that may, or may not apply, depending on the factual scenario of each case.  Further complicating matters is the reality that a single case can have multiple limitations periods that may apply.

The following information on statutes of limitations is current as of 8/9/2022, is general only, and should not be treated as legal advice. For specific advice on any particular claim, one should always seek out the advice of a lawyer.

Car Accident Cases.

In Minnesota, most, but certainly not all, car-accident cases have a six-year limitations period.  Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 541.05, the limitations period applicable to most negligence actions is six years. See, D.M.S. v. Barber, 645 N.W.2d 383, 390 (Minn. 2002)(Noting that Minn. Stat. section 541.05(5), “contains the six-year period of limitation applicable to most negligence actions.”)  Most car accidents cases are the result of driver negligence.  Accordingly, most car accident cases are subject to a six-year limitations period.

Wrongful Death Cases.

Most, but not all, Minnesota wrongful death cases must be commenced within three years of the date of death. Minn. Stat. § 573.02.

Product Liability Cases.

In Minnesota, most product liability cases are subject to a four-year statute of limitations. Minn. Stat. § 541.05, Subd. 2.  

Dram Shop Cases.

A typical dram shop case arises from a situation in which a bar or similar establishment overserves an obviously intoxicated person, and that obviously intoxicated person then gets behind the wheel, crashes their car and injures some innocent person.  In such a case, the bar can be held responsible for the harm done to the innocent person hit by the drunk driver. Most dram shop cases have a two-year limitation period, and an even shorter notice requirement of just 240 days.

Sexual Abuse Cases.

In Minnesota determining the applicable limitation period in a sexual abuse case can be complicated.   Such claims are governed by Minn. Stat. §541.073, which was substantially amended in May 2013.

Pursuant to the statute, claims that were already time barred prior to amendment on May 25, 2013, must have been commenced by May 25, 2016.  Claims that were not time barred on May 25, 2013, are subject to the following limitations periods:

Claims against a person who was a cause of plaintiff’s damages, either by (a) committing the sexual abuse, or (b) negligence:

    1. Where, at time of abuse, victim is 18 years or older, claim must be commenced within 6 years of the abuse.
    2. Where, at time of abuse, victim is under the age of 18 at time of abuse, and perp is 14 or older, claim may be commenced at any time.
    3. Where, at time of abuse, victim is under the age of 18 at time of abuse, and perp is a natural person under age 14, claim must be commenced before Plaintiff is 24 years of age.

Claims for vicarious liability or respondeat superior:

    1. Where, at time of abuse, victim is under the age of 18, claim must be commenced before Plaintiff is 24 years of age.
    2. Where, at the time of abuse, victim is over the age of 18, claim must be commenced within six years of the abuse.

Battery Cases.

A battery is “an intentional unpermitted offensive contact with another.” Paradise v. City of Minneapolis, 297 N.W.2d 152, 155 (Minn. 1980).   By way of example, a sucker punch is a battery.   Battery cases are classified as intentional torts, and in Minnesota such cases typically have a two-year limitations period.

In Minnesota a standard battery case will typically have a two-year limitation period. Minn. Stat. § 541.07(1).

Are there exceptions to the rule?

Just as there are a complex set of deadlines, there are also a complex set of exceptions.   Certain factual situations can toll the statute of limitations.  Tolling means the limitations period is essentially paused or put on hold during the tolling period.  For example, tolling can occur when the injured party (the plaintiff) is under 18 years of age, or when the plaintiff suffers from insanity.   See, Minn. Stat. § 541.15.

Other factual scenarios can delay the accrual of a cause of action. This means that in certain situations the limitations period will not begin to run until some pre-requisite is satisfied.  

A legal doctrine known as the discovery rule can apply in some Minnesota personal injury cases.  In those cases where the doctrine applies, the rule indicates that the clock does not begin to run until the injured person discovers their injuries, so long as the person discovers their injuries as soon as a reasonable person would have.

If it applies, the discovery rule can be helpful in complex personal injury cases, as sometimes, injuries don’t manifest until after a tort occurs.  For example, imagine that a person is exposed to a chemical that causes them to develop cancer later in life, years after their initial exposure. It is these types of scenarios in which the discovery rule can sometimes apply.  Even if the person’s exposure to the chemical happened many years ago, the discovery rule, if it applies, can provide that the statute of limitations will not begin to run until the date that person discovers their injuries, provided that he or she was otherwise “reasonable” in making the discovery. The exact date of applicability could depend on many factors, and would almost certainly benefit from a lawyer’s help to sort out the applicable start date.

In situations like that one, it’s easy to see that the discovery rule can quickly make matters more complicated. An opposing lawyer would likely raise the argument that the injured person wasn’t reasonable, or that a more reasonable person would have discovered the injuries earlier. If an opposing lawyer was successful in making that argument, a court could determine that the start date was much earlier, and depending on the facts, the court might also determine that the limitations period started and ended before the Plaintiff initiated suit. Such a ruling would likely prohibit the injured person’s claim from proceeding.

Given the above, it’s best to always play it safe when it comes to statutes of limitations. The clock is always ticking, and its better to consult with a lawyer as early in the process as possible.