Monday, August 6, 2018

In the current issue of Long Island Boating World, Tim covers the
subject of maritime statutes of limitations. The statutes of
limitations is a fundamental element of the justiciability of any
maritime lawsuit, whether it involves a boating accident, Jones Act
commercial mariner injury claim, injured cruise ship passenger, or
unseaworthiness issue. While maritime law injuries are generally
governed by a three-year statute of limitations, there are twists in
the road along the way to winning a case. One of the points of
caution that is important to recognize is that in certain cases, the
defendant can accelerate the statute of limitations, as in the case of
cruise ship accident cases involving passenger injuries. That also
includes
medical malpractice actions involving cruise ship
physicians and medical staff. Also, while the plaintiff in a land-
based personal injury case or med mal case enjoys certain
reprieves by virtue of age, where the statute of limitations doesn't
start running until plaintiffs reach their 18th birthday
, the maritime
statute can exclude such leniency toward minors, tending to run on
a straight time scale regardless of a prospective plaintiff's age.


Time and Tide Wait for No Man
In one form or another, most people have heard the expression,
“Time and tide wait for no man.” Although it seems like these words
have been around forever, they’re attributed to the 14th century
English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. When it comes to literature and
poetry, maybe it’s best for everyone to enjoy their own interpretation
of things. For a pragmatist, these words could mean don’t attempt
Hell Gate without checking a tide table unless you’ve got so much
horsepower in reserve, those malevolent currents become
irrelevant.

But for the most part, the words are generally accepted to mean that
time marches on and waits for nothing. And in a nutshell, that could
be a good way to express the way statutes of limitations work under
the law. A statute of limitations is the time period within which a
legal action must be brought. It essentially means deadline, but
leave it to the law to come up with a three-word name for something
when one word would do. If a claimant misses this deadline, the
case will be forever barred from having its day in court. More
precisely, under the codes of civil procedure, the case will be
dismissed for failing to be filed within the statute of limitations.

Under maritime law, many actions are governed by a three-year
statute of limitations. But there are various caveats that can enter
the fray, so that one can’t take anything for granted until they have
ascertained that shorter (less forgiving) statutes of limitations will
not apply under state and municipal laws.

The concept of a statute of limitations could seem heartless,
serving to leave damaged or injured claimants out in the cold if they
miss the deadline by so much as one day. But if one looks at the
other side of the coin, it could be unfair for someone to be sued on
a contract she doesn’t even remember signing twenty years ago.

Virtually every form of legal action has an applicable statute of
limitations. For intentional torts like slander or libel, claimants must
generally act quickly because such cases are governed by short
statutes of limitation generally in the range of about a year,
depending on the state. For motor vehicle accidents or premises
injuries, we see often three-year and two-year statutes of
limitations, depending on the state where jurisdiction arises. And
similarly, there are statutes of limitations that govern warranties,
contracts, defective products, judgments, and other matters.

Statutes of limitations are sometimes loosened by state law
provisions in the interest of justice. For instance, minors could
enjoy some leeway, where the clock won’t start to tick until they
reach their eighteenth birthday. But maritime law can throw a
wrench into this concept, where it will not give claimants such
leeway.

State laws can also provide a cushion in medical cases, where
depending on the jurisdiction, the clock won’t start to tick until a
person discovers the condition on which an action could be brought.

In some maritime cases, statutes of limitations are abbreviated by
the terms of a contract. For anyone taking a cruise, it could be worth
checking the fine print on the back of a ticket because the time to
bring action could be shorter than that provided under federal or
state law.

Statutes of limitation can be a contentious issue, whether under
maritime law or other areas of law. Some of the most bitter
courtroom battles have been fought for the mere right to press a
case forward when the other side argues that the matter is time
barred. The results can seem unjust at times, where a person
suffering grievous injury who misses the statute of limitations by
one day is out of luck, while someone who in a timely fashion
argues that the cream frosting of a donut ruined his health can get
such a case on the court dockets. But it isn’t about the merits of a
case… it’s simply about watching the clock, or more correctly, the
calendar.

If there’s something to be learned here, it’s that acting promptly on
a legal matter, maritime or otherwise, is always a preferable course
of action. Regardless of statutes of limitations, acting sooner than
later makes sense because information needs to be gathered
when events are fresh. Witnesses move out of town. Peoples’
recollections of events fade. It can be stressful to scurry for reports
at the last minute. Acting in a timely manner when a legal issue
arises is always preferable to waiting until the last few days before
a statute of limitations is about to expire.


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