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Opinion: Missouri is overdue for an update to its statute of limitations

A lot can happen in five years. Think back to where you were five years ago. Do you remember what car you were driving? What were you doing on a particular day? The conversations and interactions you had at any given time? For most of us, we can only summon a general recollection, and even that may not be reliable as our memory fades and our brains make up details to fill the holes in our memory.

SB 631, from Sen. Dan Hegeman, lowers the statute of limitations from five years to two years.

In sum, five years is a long time to forget and misremember important events. But Missouri law seems to think that five years is plenty of time to bring a lawsuit.

Missouri has one of the longest statute of limitations of any state, sitting at a five-year time in which to file a personal injury claim. Only three other states have a longer filing period while 45 states have a three-year or less statute of limitations. As mentioned, five years is a long time for key pieces of evidence to get lost, get misplaced, or get inadvertently destroyed.

Meanwhile, the memory of witnesses can become wholly unreliable, which complicates the search for truth. Finally, an overly long statute of limitations prevents finality in disputes, as a defending party has to wonder whether a lawsuit for long-past injuries will ever be filed against them. 

The whole purpose of a statute of limitations is to promote the speedy administration of justice by encouraging resolution of disputes and to promote some sense of finality to civil litigation, a five-year statute of limitations just does not accomplish those goals. The time has come for Missouri to shorten this window from five years to a more reasonable number, which is exactly what SB 631 accomplishes.

SB 631 lowers the statute of limitations from five years to two years, and it will only apply for injuries occurring after the bill’s effective date. This will align Missouri with the majority of states and go a long way to reforming Missouri’s tort system.

Injured parties should not sleep on their rights and compromise the judge and jury’s search for truth and justice if relevant evidence is no longer available. Two years is plenty of time for an injured party to consider their case, find an attorney, and file a complaint. This will contribute to prompt resolution of disputes, while also ensuring that evidence and witness memory is fresh. 

Parties should not prejudice justice by letting the clock tick by, and SB 631 encourages litigants to strike while the iron is hot. Likewise, SB 631 promotes finality for defendants and brings Missouri law up to date.