Can you claim for late-onset illnesses?

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Many people will either have direct experience with a personal injury or may know somebody who has faced such a predicament. The received wisdom, handed down from friends and family and online articles on the matter of personal injury claims, is that that is a three year ‘statute of limitations’ on making a claim.

However, this throws up many questions and scenarios that don’t fit the typical mould. While the three year time limit on beginning a personal injury claim helps to ensure that plaintiffs begin their case within a reasonable time frame, some people may not be aware of their injury until the three year time limit has passed. For example, a Mesothelioma lawyer wouldn’t typically expect a client to have developed the lung disease and make the link between their condition and a working environment all within three years. So, what are the rules? As it turns out, there are a couple of things to bear in mind.

Date of knowledge

In the legal world, there are two dates relating to cases. One date relates to the calendar date upon which an incident – such as a personal injury – took place. The other date is the date upon which the affected individual became aware of their injury. This may sound a little odd, but many people may not be aware that their medical condition is linked to negligence that occurred on behalf of an employer, for example, until years prior.

Factory workers exposed to hazardous materials may not develop symptoms of diseases for many years, at which time they may feel that they are too late to bring a claim against a negligent employer. This is not the case. The date of knowledge resets the clock, so to speak, meaning that the affected individual has three years from their date of knowledge to begin a claim.

What about childhood injuries?

You may have heard that where an injury occurred in childhood, the person must begin their claim within three years of the date of their 18th birthday. While this is true for people who understand the complete nature of their injury (for example, faulty playground equipment or a burn or scold due to exposure to flames or chemicals while under the supervision of a school teacher), other people may not be aware of the full origins of their injury. This could include any instance of illness or injury that was caused by negligence.

Generally, upon discovering that an adult illness or injury is the result of negligence from many years prior, the three year date of knowledge time frame will apply to the individual.

These rules give people a means of taking action in case of personal injury, even where the initial three year time period may have expired. Do your research and check the specific laws in your state.