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Statutes of Limitations: Drop Dead Dates and What They Mean to Your Case In the Trial Court or Court of Appeals

The American court system is one filled with deadlines: deadlines for discovery to find out important information to proceed with a case to trial, deadlines for filings of numerous types, and to begin with, deadlines for initiating a lawsuit. There are numerous rules in the court system regarding statutes of limitation and when one can timely file a lawsuit (or appeal by a Notice of Appeal).

Often, one of the first questions Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys ask when speaking to a potential new client is what has been filed recently, if the case is pending, and in any situation, if there are there any upcoming dates, particularly that would impair (not timely exchanging a witness or exhibit list) or bar (a statute of limitations) a case.

Without knowing this, an attorney may not able to represent a party with a legal matter in a proper fashion.

Before turning to statues of limitations to bring a case in a trial court, remember the same concept applies to appeals. Appellants have thirty (30) days from the date of the final order in which to file an appeal. Therefore, if a final order is filed and the appellant waits three (3) weeks to contact an attorney, those precious days are ticking away; and without knowing the deadline, the appeal may die by missing its drop dead date before it is ever even filed.

As a general rule, all cases are brought and maintained by either filing a case in person with the clerk of the relevant court or by mail or third party source. In a recent case, the Indiana Court of Appeals addressed the specific issue of mail filing, namely Webster v. Walgreen Co. In this case, the plaintiff, Webster, suffered an injury when she slipped on the ice outside of the defendant’s store.1

Webster’s attorney prepared the complaint to bring her claim within the statute of limitations. However, due to a weighing error, with the envelope weighed slightly more than 6 ounces, and, therefore, the postage was incorrect and $.17 short. The court clerk did not pay the required postage, and the complaint was sent back to the attorney.

The attorney then resent the complaint, with more postage, the same day he received it back. However, this was too late, as the statute of limitations had run.

On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that having the proper amount of postage was a requirement of mail filing, and a “matter within the plaintiff’s control”. The statute of limitations had run because the plaintiff had not properly controlled and/or determined this matter; and therefore, there was no proper claim. Thus, the case was barred by the statute of limitations.

The issue of deadlines and mailings is a difficult concept to determine and manage. Both the attorney and the client should be aware of all dates, particularly statutes of limitations and times to perfect and appeal. As a client, be aware of time constraints and get documents and information to your attorney as quickly as possible to avoid losing your case before it even begins.

Thus, the fact or circumstance whereby the lawsuit or appeal is in the mail may not be good enough. We hope this helps you as a legal consumer or general member of society. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys practice throughout the State of Indiana. This blog post was written by Bryan L. Ciyou, Esq. and Jessica Keyes.

  1. Webster v. Walgreen Co., ___ N.E.2d ___ (Ind.Ct.App.2012) (2012 WL 1118416).
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