A North Carolina resident was injured in a Virginia restaurant, when she suffered a trip and fall injury which she asserted was caused by a defective condition in the restaurant. She suffered orthopedic injuries that were handled with doctors in North Carolina. One of the legal issues in the trip and fall case was whether a two year Virginia statute of limitations applied, or whether a three year North Carolina injury limitation period applied. Our law firm, licensed in both NC and VA, researched the legal issue and learned that if an NC resident suffers an “out of state” injury, and files a NC state court suit against the responsible party (which party must do business in NC) that NC will apply the three year NC personal injury statute of limitations as to a common law negligence action. Ultimately, the case was settled for $22,500 with the details of the claim being confidential.
Our law firm was first retained 2 years and a few months after the Virginia trip/fall injury occurred-after the expiration of VA’s two year (2) statute of limitations for negligence injuries. The restaurant’s claims adjuster told the potential client that the VA statute of limitations had expired on the potential claim. Attorney Richard Shapiro agreed to accept the case for the North Carolina resident, only on the condition that the firm would determine if the North Carolina three year personal injury statute of limitations might be applicable.
First of all, there are numerous legal rules on where any person or company can be sued by an injured person, and the simplest statement is that you can only sue a person or company in particular state if they either do business in the state or have some minimum contacts in that state (like owning property, selling goods or services there, doing some kind of business, etc). Here, our research quickly revealed that the restaurant actively conducted business in North Carolina as well as Virginia.
In some personal injury situations involving visitors or vacationers traveling briefly into a state (such at those visiting VA or NC) it is a complicated legal issue as to what state statute of limitations applies-especially if one state has a shorter time to sue than another state. If there is some question about what statute of limitations applies, an experienced injury attorney must research the nature of the injury, the state in which it occurred, the resident or home state of the visitor, and determine what are called “conflicts of law” court decisions, and what are called “borrowing statutes” in the states.
“Borrowing [state] statutes” often dictate what happens if one state has a different statute of limitations from that state’s own law and if a suit is filed in the resident’s home state. For example, Va follows a 2 year general negligence statute of limitations and the bordering state of North Carolina follows a three year statute of limitations. This can create some “options” on what state to file a suit in-especially in the situation involving our injured client. We knew that if the client’s suit was filed in Virginia it would likely be dismissed under the statute of limitations.
However, our client was a North Carolina resident merely visiting VA when hurt in the restaurant, and received most of her medical treatment back in NC where she lived. Research of the NC laws, and especially the NC “borrowing statute” revealed that if a NC resident files an injury case in a NC state court, and if another state where the injury happened has a statute of limitations that is shorter than NC’s, that NC will apply the NC statute of limitations for a common law personal injury negligence action. So, under the specific facts of this injury case, we advised the client that the law provided up to three years to file the case in NC, and the restaurant did business in North Carolina (a necessary condition to having a viable lawsuit in NC). Essentially, we “revived” the injury case for our client, explained our analysis of the law to the restaurant claims adjuster, and that we would file the suit in North Carolina if necessary. About a month before the expiration of three years, we settled the claim on a confidential basis with the restaurant to the satisfaction of our client.