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Opinion: The time has come to reform the statute of limitations

Picture this: A person is injured in a slip-and-fall case at a grocery store. At the time, that person didn’t think anything of it. Nearly five years go by. And near the end of that five-year time span, that person decides it’s a good time to sue the store for the injury. Now, all of a sudden, that grocery store is being hauled into court to answer for an accident that took place five years ago. Records have been inadvertently lost. Witnesses and past employees cannot be located to answer questions, and those who are, have no recollection of the event. So much time has passed that the quest for truth and justice is frustrated. That is the current state of Missouri’s statute of limitations laws.

Rep. Bill Owen

Missouri’s statute of limitations for most personal injuries sits at five years. The law has not been amended since 1939, a time when communication and transportation technologies are not what they were today. But such a long window of time does not make sense with our modern technology. 

Overly long statutes of limitation can actually frustrate the desires of both parties to see justice done. The burden of proof remains on a plaintiff in a lawsuit, which means if evidence or witnesses cannot be found because of the lapse of time, that plaintiff will suffer for sleeping on his or her rights.

That is why the reforms of SB 631 are so important. SB 631 amends the five-year statute of limitations to two years. Currently, only three states have a longer statute of limitations period than Missouri while 45 states have a period that is three years or less. SB 631’s modest reform will bring Missouri in line with her sister states, and it will encourage a plaintiff to strike while the iron is hot, rather than to let time erode the administration of justice. 

Importantly, SB 631 does not amend the current exceptions to the statute of limitations, which includes exceptions for injuries to a child. Likewise, SB 631 has no effect on causes of action that already existed at the time of the bill’s passage. Instead, SB 631 will only apply to causes of action that arise after the bill’s effective date. Thus, litigants and their lawyers will be aware of the coming change in law and how to respond to it. 

Parties should be quick to seek justice rather than delay it. A statute of limitations adds finality to a dispute and also ensures that an injured party will not sleep on his or her rights. Likewise, it fosters speedier recoveries and makes it more likely parties will be dealing with a complete record. SB 631 is an important reform to help our state’s court system modernize.