While it may be tempting to take a “wait and see” approach and hope for a settlement with a negligent party’s insurance company, it is unwise to wait until the last minute to contact an attorney if you believe you have grounds to seek legal redress for a civil wrong. When filing a lawsuit, time is of the essence. Called “statutes of limitation,” there are specific laws setting forth the time period in which suit may be filed.
After this period has ended, a plaintiff’s suit will usually be dismissed as untimely, unless it meets the very narrow grounds for an exception. One of the possible pitfalls of waiting too long to take action was illustrated in a recent case.
Facts of the Case
In the case of Abrahamson v. Estate of LeBold, the plaintiff commenced a civil action against the defendant estate in a Massachusetts superior court in July 2014, alleging claims for tort, contract, and violation of certain consumer protection statutes. The trial court dismissed the complaint as untimely. According to the trial court, Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code § 3-803(a) required that the plaintiff’s suit be filed within a year of the decedent’s death.
The plaintiff appealed, insisting that his suit was timely under the savings statute codified at Massachusetts General Laws ch. 260 § 32 or that he was entitled to equitable relief. In so arguing, the plaintiff pointed out that he had originally sued the decedent in an Ohio court in September 2012, while the decedent was still living. That suit had ultimately been dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction in December 2013, but, prior to that the plaintiff had filed a suggestion of death with the Ohio courts in order to substitute the estate in the decedent’s place.
The Appeals Court’s Decision
The appellate court affirmed, holding that Massachusetts General Laws ch. 190, § 3-803(a) allowed only one year for the filing of a claim against the personal representative of a decedent. Because the plaintiff’s Massachusetts lawsuit had not been filed until a year and a half after the decedent’s death, it was untimely, despite the earlier actions in Ohio. The savings statute did not apply because § 3-803(a) is a special statute that contains an inconsistent statute of limitations. The purpose of § 3-803(a) is to prevent the prolongation of litigation in order to expedite the settlement of estates.
With regard to the plaintiff’s plea for equitable relief under § 3-803(e), the court found that such relief was only available to a creditor whose claim had not been prosecuted within the time set forth by § 3-803(a) or (b).
Talk to a Massachusetts Attorney About Filing Suit
As this case shows, certain situations can speed up the statute of limitations, effectively limiting the plaintiff’s time for filing suit. Beyond such issues as the one in this case, there is also the issue of a timely investigation into the cause of a car accident, premises liability accident, or product liability accident. Over time, evidence can disappear, thus devaluing a case. If you need to speak to a Massachusetts personal injury attorney about a possible lawsuit against a negligent business, individual, or governmental entity, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at (888) 262-6664. We serve clients in Plymouth, Hyannis, and elsewhere in the Cape Cod area.
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