At five years, Missouri currently has one of the longest personal injury statute of limitations of any state. In fact, only two states, Maine and North Dakota have longer statute of limitations periods (6 years), while forty-seven states currently have a shorter period. The Missouri General Assembly, through House Bill 2206 and Senate Bill 631, is currently debating reducing the statute of limitations period for personal injury claims from five years to two years.
Five years is a long time – long enough for even the most vivid of memories to fade. This presents practical obstacles to personal injury litigation in Missouri. After five years parties and witnesses may have only a faint memory of an accident or may even misremember key details. They may even struggle to remember whether the light was red or green.
In addition to fading memories, the problem presented with a five-year statute of limitations period is that key pieces of physical evidence could become misplaced or inadvertently destroyed. Employees and witnesses may no longer have the same job or live at the same address, which can make them difficult to locate. The problem with five years is that a lot can happen that makes the jury’s job that much harder.
Consider this scenario: Plaintiff falls at Defendant’s business. Plaintiff never tells Defendant or its employees about the fall and suddenly files suit just before the five-year statute of limitations expires. Because Defendant did not know of the incident, they did not preserve any evidence. They now face a blind lawsuit which puts them at a distinct disadvantage and Defendant may not be able to refute Plaintiff’s evidence. Taking this example a step further, what if Plaintiff claims one of Defendant’s employees admitted they knew of the condition that caused Plaintiff to fall and did nothing about it? Due to the passage of time, Defendant may not be able to identify this employee or, even if they do, the employee, who may no longer even be an employee, may not remember whether or not she made the admission.
Now, let’s assume that Plaintiff did report the fall to Defendant and that Defendant’s security cameras had captured video footage of the incident. However, after the passage of five years Defendant can no longer locate the video. In addition, employees of Defendant at the time of the fall may no longer be employees, making them difficult or impossible to locate, and their memory of the incident (if any), has likely faded. Defendant remains at a disadvantage and now has the added obstacle of having to explain to a jury why they no longer have the video.
The majority of states (24) have a two-year statute of limitations period. Sixteen states have a three-year period. Missouri through House Bill 2206 and Senate Bill 631 looks to join the majority at two years. Both House Bill 2206 and Senate Bill 631 were introduced on January 5, 2022 and both have made it through committee revisions. House Bill 2206 has progressed though the Special Committee on Litigation Reform and the Legislative Oversight Committee. Senate Bill 631 has made it through the Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Both bills are being scheduled for debate on the on their respective floors. Each bill currently contains additional provisions which do not relate specifically to the reduction of the statute of limitations period from five years to two years. If either bill passes through a full vote, it will be sent to the other chamber for possible amendment. If either bill is passed by both chambers, it will be sent to the governor for signature.
There are several benefits to reducing the statute of limitations period from five years to two years. First and foremost, it would give a potential defending party assurance that any lawsuit could only be brought against them for a short time. It also requires a potential plaintiff to pursue a claim or lawsuit in a timely manner, which has the added benefit of allowing for the defending party to assess the validity of claims earlier as opposed to potentially many years after an alleged accident. Evidence is also less likely to be lost or misplaced and witness recollections will likely be clearer and more reliable. Moreover, each side would have an equal opportunity to gather evidence while the facts are still fresh.
Should either House Bill 2206 or Senate Bill 631 be passed, the effective date would be August 28, 2022, meaning that only claims for personal injury accruing after that date would be subject to the two-year statute of limitations period. We will continue to monitor each bill’s progress and provide updates.