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December 27, 2023 | Contract DraftingEmploymentLitigation

What Is A Statute Of Limitations?

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David Fish

Senior Counsel

Ellie Sanders

Associate Attorney

Statutes of limitations are deadlines that dictate the timeframe within which a legal claim must be filed.  Understanding these limitations is vital, as failing to adhere to the specified timeframes may result in the loss of the right to pursue a legal remedy.  If you are unsure about the statute of limitations associated with your potential legal claim, a qualified dispute attorney can help you take legal action before your claim expires.

What is a Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations refers to the legally defined timeframe during which an individual or entity can file a lawsuit.  Once this period has elapsed, generally, the right to bring a lawsuit has ended and the claim is considered “time-barred.”  The rationale behind statutes of limitations is to promote fairness, ensure the timely resolution of disputes, and prevent the litigation of “stale” claims where evidence and memories may have faded.

While statutes of limitations state clear deadlines, tolling provisions and exceptions exist to accommodate unique circumstances.  “Tolling” occurs when a statute of limitations period is temporarily paused for a certain time, which lengthens the statute of limitations by the time period that it was paused.  For instance, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State tolled statutes of limitations for civil litigations from March 20, 2020 to November 3, 2020.  In that case, the statutes of limitation were extended by 228 days.

To illustrate an exception to statutes of limitation, the “discovery rule” prevents the statute of limitation from running in cases where the injured party could not have reasonably discovered the harm or its cause until a later date.  This delays the start of the statute of limitations until the date that the injury is – or should have been – discovered.

There are other rare circumstances where a statute of limitation can be tolled or extended.  It is best to seek experienced legal counsel to know when those exceptions apply.

Statute of Limitation on Federal Employment Claims

Discrimination, harassment, and other employment-related grievances fall under specific statutes of limitations, which may be based on federal law, or may vary based on the state law in the state where the employee lives.  For instance, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires that claims be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the alleged violation.  Simply put, you need to file a charge within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place.  However, the statute of limitations is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis.  For example, New York state has such a law, so the deadline to file is 300 days in New York.

Statute of Limitation on Copyright Claims

Copyright claims are governed by federal law, specifically, the Copyright Act of 1976.  Copyright infringement claims must typically be filed within three years of the date the alleged violation.  This deadline may vary based on factors like when the infringement was discovered and whether the infringement is ongoing, among others.  Understanding these nuances is crucial for creators seeking to protect their intellectual property rights through legal recourse.

Statute of Limitation on Contract Claims

Contract disputes have their statutes of limitation, often varying by jurisdiction and the type of contract.  Generally, the time limit for bringing a breach of contract claim ranges from two to ten years, with the clock starting from the date the breach occurs.  With that said, it is crucial to be aware of any provisions in the contract itself, as well as any local, state, and federal laws that may impact these timelines.


Understanding the specific timeframes associated with your claim is paramount to preserving your legal rights.  Whether you are an employee facing discrimination, an artist protecting your creations, or a business in a contract dispute, timely action is key.  Reach out to a member of our team to ensure compliance with statutes of limitation and maximize your chances of a successful legal outcome.



Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash
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