6 Locations Across Wisconsin

Understanding Wisconsin Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims

by | Mar 15, 2024

You’re walking down the baking aisle at the grocery store, comparing prices on chocolate chips, when you hear a loud crash behind you. You turn to see a tall fluorescent light fixture lying in pieces inside your cart. Jagged shards of glass have cut deep into your hand and forearm. Blood is everywhere.

After the initial shock wears off, you find yourself faced with medical bills, lost wages from time off work, and lasting nerve damage from the deep cuts. You may be wondering if the store is legally responsible for this accident. Should you pursue compensation for your losses?

You likely have the right to file a personal injury claim. But you don’t have the rest of your life to do it.

At Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C. (VHD Law), we understand the challenges you face when dealing with a personal injury claim. Wisconsin law limits the timeframe for taking legal action through statutes of limitations. Read on to learn what you need to know.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a deadline for filing different kinds of lawsuits. These laws are designed to ensure the integrity of the legal process and prevent old cases from clogging up the court system.

Essentially, it means that if you don’t file your claim within the specified time frame, you may lose your right to seek compensation for your injuries.

Over time, evidence may be lost or destroyed, memories can fade, and witnesses can become difficult to locate. Statutes of limitation encourage the timely resolution of claims while information is still available.

In civil law, they provide certainty to both claimants and defendants. An injured party knows they need to act promptly to preserve their rights. Likewise, defendants have the assurance they won’t be sued indefinitely for past incidents.

Wisconsin’s Specific Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims

Under Wisconsin law, you have three years from the date of an accident or injury to file a personal injury lawsuit seeking compensation for your damages. This statute of limitations is set forth in Wisconsin Statutes section 893.54. The following actions shall be commenced within three years or be barred:

(1) An action to recover damages for injuries to the person.

(2) An action brought to recover damages for death caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another.

It’s important to note that this three-year limit applies explicitly to personal injury claims. Other types of claims, such as property damage or breach of contract, may have different time limits.

Starting the Clock: Accrual of Personal Injury Claims

In personal injury cases, the three-year period generally starts running from the date you are injured. This date marks when your claim legally “accrues” or comes into existence. It triggers the statute of limitations countdown.

However, Wisconsin also follows a “discovery rule,” meaning your claim may not accrue until you discover, or reasonably should have discovered, the following key facts:

  • The nature of your injury
  • The cause of your injury
  • The party responsible for the injury

For example, if you develop a severe infection from retained surgical gauze years after a procedure, your claim would accrue when you learned of the gauze causing your infection—not on the date of your initial surgery.

These nuances can be minute, so it’s always best to consult with a personal injury lawyer to see when the clock starts ticking. 

Exceptions to Wisconsin’s Personal Injury Time Limit

While the three-year statute of limitations applies to most personal injury cases in Wisconsin, there are some exceptions. Not everything is always black and white when it comes to the law. Here are a few situations where the standard time limit may not apply:

  • Minors/Disabled Persons: For children and individuals deemed mentally incompetent, the statute of limitations may be put tolled until they reach age 18 or regain competence. [More on tolling in the next section]
  • Claims Against Government Entities/Officials: You typically must provide notice of your claim within 120 days and file suit within two years.
  • Wrongful Death Claims: If death resulted from a motor vehicle accident, the filing deadline is shortened to two years after the date of death.

Contact a VHD Law attorney if you are unsure about your situation. They can clarify whether your case is part of an exception. 

Tolling the Statute of Limitations

Under limited circumstances, it’s possible to “toll” or pause the statute of limitations in Wisconsin. Tolling provisions are designed to uphold fairness for situations like when the defendant was absent from Wisconsin, evading prosecution. If the person who caused your injury fled to another state to avoid being served with a lawsuit, the clock would stop ticking until they returned to Wisconsin.

Another option would be if other legal proceedings against the defendant were already pending on the same issue. If criminal charges were filed against the person who caused your injury, the statute of limitations for your civil claim may be tolled until the criminal case is resolved.

If tolled, the clock stops running on your filing deadline for the specified duration. Once the tolling reason no longer applies, the countdown resumes where it left off.

Consequences of Missing the Deadline

If you fail to file your personal injury claim within the applicable statute of limitations, the consequences can be severe. Potential effects include the complete dismissal of your lawsuit. If the defense proves your case falls outside the statute, the court may dismiss your claim. At that point, you lose your legal right to compensation.

This can be devastating, especially if you’ve incurred significant medical expenses, lost wages, or suffered other damages as a result of your injury. As the deadline nears, your bargaining power also weakens. Savvy defense lawyers may delay negotiations until you have little recourse left besides accepting a low offer.

How Our Attorneys Can Help With Your Claim’s Time Limit

At VHD Law, we recognize that courtroom proceedings and legal deadlines are likely the furthest thing from your mind after suffering an injury. However, prompt legal action is crucial for recovering the maximum compensation you deserve.

Our personal injury lawyers can help by:

  • Counseling you on time-sensitive documentation and evidence collection. Our team will work with you to collect medical records, witness statements, and other critical evidence to support your claim.
  • Crafting a proactive legal strategy involving the statute of limitations. Our attorneys are known for developing comprehensive legal strategies tailored to each case.
  • Assessing any pre-litigation settlement offers in light of impending deadlines. Because, in some cases, it may be possible to reach a settlement with the responsible party before filing a lawsuit.
  • Preparing for potential defenses seeking dismissal based on filing periods. Defendants in personal injury cases may try to use the statute of limitations as a defense, arguing that you waited too long to file your claim. We will see to it that this defense is invalidated.

Contact VHD Law For More Information About Personal Injury Law

We hope this overview has helped explain Wisconsin’s statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Please remember that deadlines start accruing from the date of your injury or accident.

While securing fair compensation may be a top priority after suffering harm, prompt legal consultation is key to determining your best path forward before time runs out. Our team is here to help you make sense of the next steps.

Please reach out for a free case review at your earliest convenience.

Written by Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C.

Personal Injury

24 Hour Access

Related Articles