Statute of Limitations in Virginia

June 10, 2021


Every potential legal claim, whether criminal or civil, has a commencement deadline called the statute of limitations (SOL). Timeframes differ depending on the claim type, but missing these statutory deadlines means losing related litigation and financial recovery rights. Insurers typically refuse to settle claims barred by the applicable SOL – called time-barred litigation – and courts quickly dismiss untimely lawsuits. Locating and calculating the statutory deadline applicable to your legal dispute is the first and most critical step in the claims process. If you need help understanding and applying Virginia’s statutes of limitations, connect with the experienced Virginia attorneys at McClanahan Powers, PLLC by calling (703) 520-1326 or contacting us online. Delaying can mean the difference between case dismissal and financial recovery.

Determining the Appropriate Virginia Statute of Limitations

Virginia’s statutes of limitations apply to potential lawsuits controlled by Virginia law. This generally means claims involving Virginia-based corporations, property, or accidents. But it might also control contracts executed in the Commonwealth and multi-jurisdictional claims centered in the state. Virginia’s limitation periods also apply to Virginia-controlled contracts, even during out-of-state litigation, and in many EDVA/WDVA federal diversity cases. Only qualified lawyers can determine which statutory timeframes apply to Virginia claims.

Overview of the Time Limits Applicable to Common Virginia Lawsuits

Locating the statute of limitations applicable to each case means categorizing individual legal disputes. Many lawsuits involve multiple claims – such as trade secret misappropriate, breach of contract, and negligence – with different statutory deadlines. The Commonwealth of Virginia generally organizes cases and sets statutory deadlines as follows:

  • Personal Injuries, Medical Malpractice, and Wrongful Death (2 years)– Includes events resulting in physical harm such as slip-and-falls, motor vehicle collisions, assaults, malpractice, and recreational sporting accidents. The deceased’s representative might receive two years from the date of death to file lawsuits related to fatal accidents, whether occurring from malpractice, falling accidents, or motor vehicle collisions. Special exceptions may also apply to medical malpractice claims in light of COVID-19 emergency protocols.
  • Fraud (2 years) – Includes obtaining money, services, or property through deceitful means. Many business claims fall into this category.
  • Sexual Abuse (10 or 20 years) – Includes personal or psychological injuries caused by sexual assaults, molestation, or related abuse. Special exceptions also apply for victims of childhood abuse, and claimants may qualify for deadline extensions.
  • Breach of Written Contract (5 years) – Includes damages to persons or property due to the breach of signed written agreements.
  • Breach of Oral Contracts (3 years) – Includes unsigned written agreements, oral contracts, and contracts implied in law.
  • Libel, Slander, and Defamation (1 year) – Includes insulting words, written defamation, and business defamation.
  • Virginia Trade Secret Misappropriation (3 years) – Covers claims falling under the Virginia Uniform Trade Secrets Act.
  • Settling Partnership Accounts and Merchant Disputes (5 years) – The statute of limitations begins running from the date the business relationship ends.
  • Shareholder and Derivative Lawsuits (5 years at common law) – Although a specific statute of limitations does not exist for Virginia-based shareholder suits, the Virginia Supreme Court applies a judicially created five-year statute of limitations.

Additional limitation periods exist for less common actions, and Virginia also has a catch-all two-year limitations period for unspecified actions. However, some valid claims expire within one year of the triggering event. Most attorneys offer non-obligatory consultations to discuss the statute of limitations in your case, offering potential clients time to assess their legal options.

Calculating Statutory Timelines in the Commonwealth

Determining which statute of limitations applies is only the first step in calculating lawsuit commencement deadlines. Potential claimants must also determine when the clock starts ticking. The unlawful event itself triggers most statutory deadlines. For example, the date of the car accident triggers the two-year statute of limitations for related personal injury claims. But things aren’t always so simple.

It takes some claimants years to discover hidden fraud or trace painful medical conditions to a missed diagnosis. In such cases, something called the discovery rule generally applies. This rule starts the statute of limitations when the claimant either actually discovered or reasonably should have discovered the unlawful conduct. Applying the discover rule often results in legal disputes, especially when the statute of limitations otherwise expired. However, it only applies to certain claims. An attorney at McClanahan Powers, PLLC, might help Virginia claimants determine when the statute of limitations began running in their cases.

Events Pausing and Extending the Time for Filing Virginia Lawsuits

Even when the statute of limitations starts running, certain events can pause (toll) the statutory period under Va. Code § 8.01-229. Consider whether one or more of the following events temporarily stopped the statute, extending the limitations period:

  • Mental/Medical Incompetence – This generally means court-ordered incompetence necessitating legal guardianship, but it might also include comas and other medical conditions resulting directly from the injuring event at issue.
  • Minority (Under 18) – The limitation period does not start running until the plaintiff turns 18. Parents may bring litigation sooner, but infancy tolls the statute of limitations.
  • Equitable Tolling – This principle might convince courts to apply the discovery rule in otherwise inapplicable cases. It generally requires showing that certain unforeseeable factors actually prevented the plaintiff from discovering wrongful conduct.
  • Bankruptcy Stay – If one or more of the necessary defendants files a federal bankruptcy petition, this stops the statute of limitations until the bankruptcy court releases the claims.
  • Fugitive Status – In rare cases, claimants might extend the statute of limitations if the defendant is purposely concealing his/her location so the plaintiff cannot obtain personal jurisdiction to proceed with litigation.
  • Active Duty Military Service – Federal law tolls the statute of limitations during qualifying military service, generally without limitation. Active duty and retired military members should discuss their rights with qualified Virginia lawyers.

Potential claimants may combine multiple tolling provisions to extend the statute of limitations. Even if it appears your claim expired, knowledgeable Virginia attorneys can determine whether one or more of these events paused the statute of limitations.

Schedule a Consultation with the Attorneys of McClanahan Powers, PLLC

Reputable civil litigators in Virginia generally provide non-obligatory SOL claims consultations for potential clients. Whether you’ve recently discovered potential fraud or wish to challenge time-barred litigation, discuss your case deadlines with the experienced attorneys at McClanahan Powers, PLLC, by calling (703) 520-1326 or contacting us online.