Statutes of Limitations in Montana: Is It Too Late To Sue?
Originally appeared in Signature MT Magazine Vol. 14, Issue 2, 2021
Suffering a personal injury as a result of someone else’s negligence can result in unexpected and in some cases major expenses, including medical bills and lost wages from missing work. If you intend to take legal action, it’s crucial to pay attention to the statute of limitations (or statute of repose). Once this period of time has passed, there is no way a court can help you right your wrong.
Civil statute of limitations in Montana
There are two types of statutes of limitations, criminal and civil. Let’s examine civil statutes a bit more in depth. Not only do the rules set an expiration date, but they may also have special stipulations that require administrative action before a case can be filed in court. They can be a minefield for people with legal claims to traverse, and many are unaware of the risk until it is too late.
Typically, time limits state the number of years. For example, common civil claims (called “torts”) like negligence resulting in physical injury, such as a car wreck, must be filed within three years under Montana’s statute of limitations. However, if the case only involves property damage, it must be filed within two years. If a medical negligence case (malpractice) involves physical injury, it must be filed within two years. However, medical malpractice cases in Montana cannot start in court. The patient must file a claim within two years with the Montana Medical Legal Panel before the case can be filed in court.
Not all claims are governed by state law.
An injury claim arising from a care wreck caused by a federal employee requires a federal tort claim to be filed within two years, rather than three under Montana law. Federal tort claims against the United States must be filed administratively first before a lawsuit may be filed. Sometimes cases even run together, with both sets of rules coming into play. For example, a single medical malpractice case may involve care partially at a federal facility (federal tort claim), and a non-government facility (Medical Legal Panel claim).
In Montana, tribal jurisdiction must also be taken into consideration.
Each reservation/Indian Nation sets its own rules for time limits; some are longer, and some are shorter than state law. Likewise, many of the protections given under state and federal acts (employment, civil rights, etc.) have special rules that require at least giving notice of a complaint in as little as 45 days.
Like most rules, statutes of limitations have exceptions.
For example, if the person making the claim is a minor when the event occurs (such as an injury from a car wreck), the basic statute of limitations does not begin to run until the minor comes of age. However, medical malpractice cases are not extended the same way, and have different rules for children under four and over four, which can get really complicated. And there can be federal rules affecting even state law claims, such as the protection for military members who are deployed overseas. They can get an extended time to file.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, but rather a warning not to sit on your rights. The sooner you take action, the better.