North Carolina Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury:
What It Is and Why There’s No Time to Waste

A statute of limitations is a deadline imposed by law on how long you can pursue justice against someone who wronged you. The deadline varies based on the type of claim and which state you’re in, though every state has them. If you don’t initiate legal proceedings before the deadline, you may be barred from making your claim forever.

In North Carolina, the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims (such as car accidents, assault and battery, slips and falls, and more) is generally three years. However, you should take action as soon as possible after you’re injured or discover harm against you. The longer you wait, the harder it can be for your personal injury lawyer to build an effective case on your behalf.  

Why Does the Statute of Limitations Exist?

A basic principle of North Carolina personal injury law is that if a victim doesn’t feel the urgency to pursue justice fairly soon after an incident, it probably wasn’t that big of a deal in the first place. Another way to think of it is that someone who may or may not have done something negligent shouldn’t have to worry about a lawsuit for the rest of their life. The injured person is given a reasonable amount of time to make a decision on pursuing a claim, and then it’s time for everyone to move on.

The law also wants to promote people acting relatively quickly on their claims. As a practical matter, the more time that passes, the less likely it is that there will be useful evidence remaining. Key records may be deleted or destroyed. Witnesses may move, die, or forget about what happened. No matter the deadline, it’s generally in everyone’s best interests to move things along relatively quickly.

When Does the Statute of Limitations Countdown Begin?

As a general rule, once you realize you’ve been injured, the clock starts to run. So, for example, if you’re hit by a negligent driver, you’ll typically become aware of your injury immediately and the clock will start to tick.

In some situations, though, it may take a while for you to realize that someone has harmed you. A very common example is when a doctor leaves a foreign body (like a sponge) inside a patient after a surgical procedure. The clock typically does not start to tick until you discover the doctor’s negligence, which can be some time after the negligence occurs.

Note: If you reasonably should have discovered the injury by a certain date but didn’t, the clock may start ticking from when you should have discovered the injury, even if you don’t actually discover it until much later.

Can Anything Pause the Statute of Limitations Countdown?

Yes. When the ticking clock on the statute of limitations is temporarily paused, this is called “tolling.” One reason for tolling can be the mental incapacity of the victim. If the person who can bring the claim is, for example, committed to a hospital for mental health, the statute of limitations countdown may be paused temporarily. Once the individual has received successful treatment, the countdown can resume.

Another example is when a minor is the victim of another’s negligence. The clock will generally not start ticking in these cases until the victim turns 18.

Do I Need an Attorney to Help Me Calculate My Statute of Limitations?

Sometimes, calculating your statute of limitations is as simple as adding three years to the date of the injury. However, there are exceptions to the general three-year statute of limitations — often giving you less time instead of more. For instance, the statute of limitations for wrongful death is generally only two years in North Carolina.

That’s why we urge you to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after your injury. Helping you keep track of critical deadlines is one of many great reasons to hire an attorney.

Remember, aside from any legally imposed deadline, the sooner your attorney can start collecting evidence, the better. Request your free case evaluation from one of our attorneys, and we’ll review the specific details for you. With no cost, no obligation, and no pressure, what do you have to lose? Call 1-866-900-7078 or get started online and have someone call you back.

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About the Author

Molly Brewer is a North Carolina personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. Molly has succeeded at a number of diverse agencies throughout her career, from the District Attorney’s Office to the North Carolina Department of Justice. Before becoming an attorney, Molly was a litigation paralegal, a university researcher, and a law professor. She is a member of both the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and the North Carolina Bar Association.