Legal English: “Statute of Limitations”

Today’s phrase, “statute of limitations,” (Pronunciation: STA-choot uv lih-mih-TAY-shuns; Origin: Latin) is a noun referring to the time within which a legal action must be commenced after an actionable incident (or other triggering event) has taken place.

For instance, in a personal injury case in New York, a complaint generally must be filed within three years after the injury occurs. After three years, the statute of limitations is said to “have run,” and any action is said to be “time-barred.” Procedurally, this means that if a complaint is filed after the expiration of the period set forth in the statute of limitations, it can be dismissed by the opposing litigant in the case.

Here are some example sentences that use the phrase:

  • “The breach occurred how many years ago? Five? Well, breach of contract claims have a 6-yearstatute of limitations, but we should still begin preparing the complaint so that we don’t run up against the deadline.”
  • “The statute of limitations for actions like these is only one year, and the incidents in question happened five years ago. Accordingly, I’m going to dismiss the suit with prejudice for failure to file in a timely fashion.”
  • “There’s no hurry here. The statute of limitations for enforcing a judgment already obtained is quite long. We’ll get around to collecting the debt when we’re done with the current crisis.”

Usage of the phrase for foreign practitioners may be somewhat confusing. While some speakers will use it to refer to a statute, others may use it to refer to the period of time referenced in the statute. It’s the difference between saying, “The statute of limitations gives you three years to file the action” and saying, “The statute of limitations is three years in cases like these.” Both are common.

For additional legal english terms and definitions, visit our Legal English category page. Washington University School of Law also offers a legal english course, for those who would like to take their learning further.