Statute of Limitations Law & Legal Definition


A statute of limitations is a law which sets the maximum period which one can wait before filing a lawsuit, depending on the type of case or claim. The periods vary by state and by type of claim. Federal statutes set the limitations for federal lawsuits. If the lawsuit or claim is not filed before the statutory deadline, the right to sue or make a claim is lost forever.

In some instances, a statute of limitations can be extended ("tolled") based on delay in discovery of the injury or fraud.  A minor's right to bring an action for injuries due to negligence is tolled until the minor turns 18 (except for a claim against a governmental agency). There are also statutes of limitations related to criminal charges, but homicide generally has no time limitation on prosecution. The contractual methods for dealing with statutes of limitations restrictions include a new promise to pay or an acknowledgment of a debt from which such promise may be inferred, or contractual limitation periods and waivers of the defense.