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Opinion: Our out-dated statute of limitation laws need to be changed

It’s not the most pleasant topic to think about, but imagine you were injured on the job. Tort laws govern your ability to file a civil lawsuit against your employer. Missouri has some of the most outdated tort laws in the nation. These are important rights that we have as Americans, but some of these laws haven’t been changed since 1939 in Missouri. One of the flaws that we have is regarding the statute of limitations in these cases, or the amount of time you’re allowed to file a lawsuit after an incident takes place.

Currently, we allow plaintiffs with five years to file personal injury lawsuits, one the longest periods of time in the country. This is double or more the amount of time in almost every other state. 42 out of 50 of them plus the District of Columbia provides three years or less to file a general tort claim, and 23 states provide plaintiffs with two years to file a claim. Only four states give plaintiffs four years to file a suit, and only Maine, Minnesota, and North Dakota have a longer statute of limitations for general personal injury claims.

You might be thinking that if something were to happen to you that you wouldn’t want to give up this extra time that you have to file a lawsuit. The problem is that ultimately having those extra three years usually only ends up hurting the plaintiff while still benefiting the rich attorneys who you would hire to represent you. It also hurts the small businesses that support all of us. That is why I believe we need to change these laws.

The reason that the extra time isn’t great for plaintiffs is that it can be difficult for judges and juries to evaluate cases when the evidence is old. Memories can change, and it can be difficult to locate witnesses. The issue is that the more time that passes the more likely it is that a plaintiff won’t win the lawsuit, but no matter what the trial attorneys that you hire still need to get paid. That is why the longer the cases drag out the more it helps them, and hurts you. The reality is that two years is plenty of time for you to decide to file a lawsuit.

Let me be clear: Statutes of limitations are important. Sometimes cases take time to develop, and it’s unrealistic to expect people to follow a lawsuit immediately after they are injured. If 42 other states believe that three years or less is enough time to decide if you want to file a lawsuit then why shouldn’t we as well?

There is legislation to fix our statute of limitations in Missouri. Senate Bill 117 would ensure we will not change the process in place unfairly, we just are fixing it moving forward. However, for any claims in the future that should be filed after this law would go into effect, the new statute of limitations period would be 2 years, not 5 years.

For every day that passes following an injury, the risk increases that evidence will be lost or inadvertently destroyed that would disprove the claim, including faded memories, death of key witnesses, loss of key evidence, etc. Long statutes of limitations can also cause waste in court resources as defendants rightfully challenge verdicts based on less than complete evidence. That is why we need to reform this antiquated way we do this in our state and pass Senate Bill 117.