There is little or nothing about the law which is feely-touchy. The law is defined by rules, procedures, and a history of decisions established on a case-by case basis. There are strict deadlines set by statute and sometimes previous legal precedent, which must be met by parties who wish to initiate a lawsuit or take some other type of legal action using the court system. These deadlines are called statutes of limitation and they are usually interpreted strictly by the courts. The law isn’t concerned with whether someone knows about these deadlines, as the burden of knowing about them is placed on the party initiating a lawsuit. The reason for this strict interpretation is because evidence to prove one’s case may no longer be available after a certain length of time, the party being sued may have destroyed evidence in their possession if not sued in a timely matter, or has been asked to preserve the evidence, or witnesses who can testify may have forgotten the facts, may have moved, may have become ill or may have died. For example, in Pennsylvania, if a person is injured, they generally have two (2) years in which to sue someone if one feels the injury was a person’s, company’s, etc.’s fault. There are sometimes exceptions which delay, or toll, this deadline, such as if one is a minor, his right to sue extends beyond the time he is 18. In contract actions the statute of limitations is generally four (4) years, but circumstances like fraud may be able to extend that period.
Despite these strict deadlines, I receive many calls each week from:
• people who have either sat on their legal rights, despite knowing they had deadlines, and missed their deadlines to sue;
• people who state they didn’t know about these deadlines, and don’t feel they should be held accountable for missing them;
• people who state they have been too busy to initiate a lawsuit, or it slipped their mind, or took some other action which they thought tolled the deadlines, but didn’t.
Where people took some other action they thought tolled their deadlines, there seems to be similar scenarios. In the first scenario, people have spent considerable time and energy discussing or writing about their issues with their elected city, state or federal government representatives, or their relatives, friends and neighbors. Yet, they never initiated a lawsuit in a timely matter. They are often surprised to learn that they have lost their rights to do so, because these contacts don’t toll statutes of limitation, even if the elected representatives state they are looking into one’s complaint or situation.
Often people will go to the courthouse and speak with a clerk who takes the time to explain the legal process to them. They do this instead of consulting with a lawyer. They then feel that the clerk is the font of significant knowledge, and tend to rely on what the clerk told them, which may or not be correct, and is often misinterpreted and limited, even if it is correct. Even if a clerk is sympathetic and agrees with them, it is a far cry from what is necessary in proving one’s case. A clerk’s information and/or advice, if incorrect, cannot be the basis of tolling a statute, or even a lawsuit. TRUST MISLAID.
Union members often rely on information the union representative, who is usually not a lawyer, provides them. However, the union representative’s advice is usually based on the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, and often doesn’t involve other types of legal actions such as civil rights. I have seen many persons miss filing deadlines required to preserve their rights under civil right laws because they are waiting for a lengthy union process to conclude, and their union representative didn’t discuss other possible remedies with them. I am not criticizing union, but it is a good idea to consult a lawyer to learn if there are other possible remedies. TRUST MISLAID.
Many people feel that because they have discussed their case with a lawyer, or left their paperwork with a lawyer to review, this tolls their statute of limitation. Unless the lawyer has accepted the case, and there is a written fee agreement signed by the lawyer and the client, the lawyer does not have a responsibility to initiate a lawsuit. Although a lawyer is not supposed to decide at the last minute that he will not bring suit, so as to disadvantage a person, this happens frequently, so a person must diligently follow up with a lawyer, especially if some months have passed without word from the lawyer, or if the lawyer is not returning their telephone calls when they call about the status of their matter. TRUST MISLAID.
Therefore, it is important to preserve one’s legal remedies by consulting with a lawyer or lawyers as soon as possible for advice on whether one has a potential lawsuit or remedy. One should not mislay one’s trust on the wrong individuals.