The Danger of Interpreting a Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations are drastic laws because their purpose is to stop an injured person from obtaining a remedy if the person waits “too long.” Because these laws are drastic, the courts and legislatures have created a number of exceptions to them. So the statute that you read isn’t necessarily the law you get. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. Here are some examples of anomolies that could hurt you:

  • In Oklahoma, there is a dog bite statute that creates strict liability for a first bite, and the statute of limitations for statutory liabilities is 3 years. However, the courts have held that a dog bite victim gets only two years to file suit because the general statute of limitations says two years.  
  • In Arizona, the general statute of limitations for personal injuries is two years, but only one year for dog bites based on the dog bite statute. The courts strictly enforce the one year limitation. 
  • In Ohio a dog attack victim gets 6 years to bring a claim if and only if liability is based on the dog bite statute, but just 2 years if it is based on negligence or other causes of action. See Ohio Revised Codes sec. 2305.07 [6 years where dog bite liability is based on statute] and compare with ORC sec. 2305.16 [2 years where dog bite liability is based on causes of action other than a statute].)

As you can see, the same principle leads to different conclusions in different states. For that reason, a lawyer must be consulted for the purpose of determining the correct period of limitations in any particular case. Don’t give up hope if your own research indicates that you went beyond the time set forth in the statute.