Statute of limitations begins at age 18 to protect minors, but long time frame can make it hard to find defense

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For most legal cases, there is a specific statute of limitations or time span following an incident in which the defendant can legally file a lawsuit. That time span begins when that person reaches age 18.

“We have statutes of limitations in this country for virtually everything, including criminal cases and civil cases because the law wants cases to be resolved,” said Greg Skordas, a lawyer and legal analyst in Salt Lake City. “They don’t want cases to just be handled forever. And so, we put a time limit on when people can file lawsuits, and it’s not usually a very tight time limit. It’s usually fairly generous, but there is, with respect to about 90 percent of cases, a time limit when you need to bring your action, both criminal and civil.”

According to Skordas, having the statute of limitations begin at 18, helps child victims.

“That statute doesn’t begin to run until the injured person turns 18. Prior to that, they can file anytime, but they have to have a legal guardian file on their behalf,” he said. “…we want the child to be competent and able to testify and represent themselves so to speak instead of having someone who’s 12 or 13 come into court as a party to a lawsuit. That’s not fair to them, so we say, ‘look, we’ll give you a little more time to file that lawsuit, and we won’t even let that statute of limitations begin to run until you turn 18, until you’re an adult.'”

The law is designed to protect children and give them a chance to fairly represent themselves. However, a longer time frame for the statute of limitations can make it difficult to gather evidence in defense. Julie Cameron said she was served a lawsuit 12 years after her dog bit a child who came into her room.

According to Cameron, over a decade ago, an 11-year-old guest let himself into a room in her house, where the door had been closed.

“He had gone into my bedroom in my house, scared my dog,” she said. “I wasn’t there; I was home, but I was downstairs in my house and the dog just bit him and ran away. At the time, it bit his lip. I paid their deductible, so he had to get some stitches in his lip, and that was it.”

According to Cameron, Animal Control was called, and deciding the dog responded in a normal way, said no action was needed. She also said the boy’s family decided at the time not to take legal action.

However, 12 years later, she said she was served a lawsuit suing her for $350,000 from the family of the boy who was bitten.

In Utah, the statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit is four years. This means that after four years have passed, you can no longer press charges for an incident.

“Since the statute of limitations on a dog bite is four years, he had four years after he turned 18, and they filed the lawsuit the day he turned 22,” Cameron said.

ABC4 News attempted to reach out to the mother of the plaintiff for a comment on why they waited so long to file the lawsuit but didn’t receive a response.

Cameron said she kept many of the records needed to prove she acted responsibly, such as the medical bill that she paid.

“I would just say keep all of your stuff if you have anything happen ever because apparently you can sued for anything anytime,” Cameron said.

She said if a minor has a legitimate claim, it makes sense for the statute of limitations to begin when they turn 18. However, in her case, Cameron said having the statute of limitations begin at 18 made it difficult to defend herself.

“It’s really hard to prove a case from 12 years ago and find witnesses, and it’s hard to defend the case… I was trying to think, ‘Who knew my dog 12 years ago? Who was around? Who can I call?'”

Though Cameron said she ultimately was able to find witnesses to testify for her, she questioned what would have happened if she had moved away or didn’t know the same people.

“I think it’s a little unfair to prosecute something like that,” she said. “If they would have filed the claim back then, I think there would have been a claim on my side where it probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere, but it’s just so hard to prove that 12 years later.”

Furthermore, she said the nature of the situation placed her at a disadvantage.

“I think it puts the accused in a real predicament because it’s almost like you have to prove your innocence rather than they have to prove your guilt because they just file whatever they want to say and then you have to come back and say it’s not true,” she said.

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