The Discovery Rule: An Exception to the Statue of Limitations

Posted on: 27 February 2015

That statute of limitations is the number of years you have to file a claim after an injury as occurred. And in most cases, if you don't file a lawsuit against the negligent party within that time frame, you have lost your chance to receive compensation for your pain, suffer, medical bills, and lost wages. However, there are exceptions to the law, and the "discovery rule" is an exception to the statute of limitations in personal injury cases.

Understanding the Discovery Rule

The time you have to file a case in a personal injury lawsuit can vary from one year up to six years, depending on the type of injury and the state where you live. The discovery rule, sometimes referred to as the discovery of harm rule, extends the time you have to file a lawsuit in a personal injury in case in certain situations.

For an extension on the statue of limitations, you must qualify in one of two ways: you didn't know you had an injury, or didn't realize your injury was due to the other party's negligence until after your time to file a claim has expired. 

Discovery Rule Examples

The discovery rule is used more than you may realize. It helps those injured from asbestos exposure or medical malpractice years later when they have discovered their illness or injury.

Lung cancer as a result of asbestos exposure may not be diagnosed until decades after the exposure, which is well past the statute of limitations in any state. But if a person only "discovered" he or she had lung cancer caused by asbestos 20 or more years later, this extends the time he or she has to file a claim. 

Doctors sometimes leave something inside a patient during surgery, and the harmful effects of this mistake may take years to manifest. This person can still file a personal injury lawsuit past the statue of limitations once they are aware of the mistake and its ill effects. 

Other Possible Exceptions

Depending on which state you live, there may be other exceptions to the statue of limitations for personal injury cases:

  • If the negligent party was out of the state for years after the injury
  • If you were a minor when the injury occurred, most state extend the time limit

Not all states have the same laws and exceptions when it comes to the time you have to file claim. If you have questions, you can discuss your case and current situation with a personal injury lawyer. Use resources like to connect with people who know the laws for your particular state and can advise you on your legal options.