Resolution in Support of Statutes of Limitations that Promote Certainty and Fairness in Civil Litigation
All civil claims are subject to statutes of limitations. These laws are basically a legal “countdown” that begins when someone is injured. When the time period expires, a claim may no longer be brought. For example, statutes of limitations typically permit a personal injury lawsuit to be filed within two or three years after an injury, although “tolling” provisions generally allow additional time if the person is a minor at the time of the event or has another legal disability.
The decision about when to lower the legal curtain and extinguish a claim is a policy determination to be made by the legislature. The legislature must strike a complex balance. On the one hand, potential plaintiffs must have an adequate opportunity to bring a claim. On the other hand, defendants and the courts must be protected from having to deal with cases in which the search for the truth may be seriously impaired by the loss of evidence, whether by death or disappearance of witnesses, fading memories, disappearance of documents, or otherwise. By striking this balance, statutes of limitations promote justice, discourage unnecessary delay, and preclude the prosecution of stale or fraudulent claims. Statutes of limitations are essential to a fair and well-ordered civil justice system.
Recently, legislation has been introduced in some states to abolish or dramatically extend the limitations period applicable to various types of civil cases. These proposals increase the possibility of fraudulent and unfair claims practices, inject uncertainty into the law, and upset the balance statutes of limitations seek to provide. Some proposals have gone even further, attempting to “revive” certain expired claims. These bills raise serious constitutional due process concerns and create disorder in the courts by eliminating finality in the resolution of cases.
ALEC, therefore, resolves to oppose legislation that would abolish or dramatically extend civil statutes of limitations. ALEC also resolves to oppose legislation to revive time-barred claims.
WHEREAS, statutes of limitations set a finite period of time in which to bring a cause of action;
WHEREAS, statutes of limitations promote justice, discourage unnecessary delay, and preclude the prosecution of stale or fraudulent claims;
WHEREAS, statutes of limitations are necessary to balance an individual’s ability to bring a lawsuit with the ability to mount a fair defense and protect the integrity of the legal system;
WHEREAS, abolishing or extending statutes of limitations undermines predictability and finality in the civil justice system;
WHEREAS, abolishing or extending statutes of limitations increases the potential for miscarriages of justice;
WHEREAS, abolishing or extending statutes of limitations subjects individuals and organizations to potentially indefinite liability;
WHEREAS, revival of time-barred claims violates fundamental notions of fairness and creates disorder in the civil justice system;
WHEREAS, revival of any set of expired claims sets a precedent that creates uncertainty with respect to the finality of other types of claims;
WHEREAS, revival of expired claims fails to consider the legal, business, and social knowledge available at the time, including precautionary measures to mitigate liability exposure through the initial purchase of insurance or decision to obtain additional coverage;
WHEREAS, most state courts that have considered laws reviving time-barred claims have declared these laws to be unconstitutional as violating defendants’ due process rights;
WHEREAS, most state legislatures that have considered bills to revive time-barred claims have rejected the proposals;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the American Legislative Exchange Council supports the preservation of statutes of limitations as fundamental to a fair and well-ordered civil justice system. All civil filings should be subject to time limits;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Legislative Exchange Council opposes measures seeking to abolish or dramatically extend civil statutes of limitations;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Legislative Exchange Council opposes measures to revive time-barred civil claims.
Approved by ALEC Board of Directors on September 11, 2008.