Arizona Criminal Statutes of Limitations

Published on in Attorney Articles

Casey Blais

Knowing The Statute of Limitations

Attorneys are frequently bombarded with deadlines.  Some are critical and others are not.  Knowing the applicable statute of limitations is extremely important for your clients.  Failing to file a lawsuit before the time limit expires may forever preclude a client lawsuit and could constitute malpractice.  It could save your client thousands and lead to an early dismissal of a lawsuit.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

Statute of limitations is the time limit within which a lawsuit must be brought.   A lawsuit must be filed before the time limit or else it will be forever barred.   The purpose of the limitation is to protect defendants from stale claims where the plaintiff has slept on his/her rights.  The applicable statute of limitations depends on the type of litigation or the nature of the criminal offense.  In Arizona, the statute of limitations for civil cases range from 180 days to six years.  Below is a table of some common statute of limitations:

COMMON STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

Personal Injury

Two Years

A.R.S. § 12-542

Breach of Contract (written)

Six Years

A.R.S. § 12-548

Breach of Contract (oral)

Three Years

A.R.S. § 12-543

Negligence

Two Years

A.R.S. § 12-542

Fraud

Three Years

A.R.S. § 12-543

Product Liability

Two Years

A.R.S § 12-542

Action Against Public Entity

180 Days

A.R.S. § 12-821.01

Additionally, there are more than a hundred other statutes of limitations that apply to specific civil and criminal causes of actions.  As such, it is imperative that attorneys understand the applicable statute of limitations for each potential claim.

When Does the Statute of Limitations Period Begin?

The general rule is the limitations period begins to accrue whenever one person may sue another.  Cheatham v. Sahuaro Collection Service, Inc., 118 Ariz. 452, 577 P.2d 738 (App. 1978).  Ordinarily that period is the date of the injury.

However, in certain circumstances, Arizona has adopted the “discovery rule,” which may provide for a different accrual date.   Under the so-called discovery rule, a cause of action accrues when the plaintiff knew or should have known by reasonable diligence that the alleged injury occurred. Gust, Rosenfeld & Henderson v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 182 Ariz. 586, 591, 898 P.2d 964, 969 (1995).  “The important inquiry in applying the discovery rule is whether the plaintiff’s injury or the conduct causing the injury is difficult for plaintiff to detect, not whether the action sounds in contract or in tort.”  Id.

Tolling and Other Considerations

In limited instances the statute of limitations can be “tolled,” meaning it stops running for a certain period of time.  The typical reasons for tolling in Arizona might include: (i) the person is a minor; (ii) mental incompetence; (iii) bankruptcy and the automatic stay.  While filing a lawsuit ordinarily tolls the statute of limitations, such is not the case if the lawsuit is dismissed without prejudice for failure to prosecute.  Suppeland v. Nilz, 128 Ariz. 43, 46, 623 P.2d 832, 835 (App. 1980).

Using the Statute of Limitations as a Defense

The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that must be pled or it is waived.  Academy Life Ins. co. v. Odiorne, 165 Ariz. 188, 797 P.2d 727 (App. 1990).  Where the allegations of the complaint are conclusively barred by the statute of limitations, the defendant can file a motion to dismiss.  However, if discovery is needed to prove the claims are barred, then a motion for summary judgment is proper since the application of the statute of limitations is determined a matter of law.