Statute of Limitations in Massachusetts: Time is of the Essence

What is the Statute of Limitations?

 A statute of limitations the deadline within which a lawsuit must be filed, or criminal charges must be brought against a person or entity. Once the statute of limitations expires, the right to pursue legal action is typically lost, and the defendant can raise the defense of the expired statute of limitations.

The length of the statute of limitations varies depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the offense or claim. Different types of cases, such as personal injury, contract disputes, or criminal offenses, may have different time limits. Additionally, the statute of limitations may be tolled or extended under certain circumstances, such as when the defendant is absent from the jurisdiction or when the plaintiff is a minor or incapacitated.

What is the Statute of Limitations in a Personal Injury Cases in Massachusetts?

 Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. These rules are subject to change and should not be completely relied on until you speak with an attorney.

In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is three years from the date of the accident or incident that caused your injuries. This time frame falls under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 260, Section 2A.

It is important to note that the statute of limitations can vary depending on the type of personal injury claim. Here are a few key scenarios with their respective statutes of limitations:

  • Personal Injury & Negligence – 3 Years: For cases involving personal injuries caused by negligence, such as car accidents, slip and falls, or medical malpractice, the general statute of limitations is three years from the date of the injury.
    • Accrual – The limitations period starts to run when a plaintiff knows or reasonably should know that it has sustained appreciable harm as a result of the defendant’s negligence.
  • Wrongful Death – 3 Years: If you are filing a wrongful death claim on behalf of a loved one, the statute of limitations is generally three years from the date of their death caused by the negligence or wrongful act of another party.
    • Accrual – For a wrongful death action, on the date of death or when the deceased’s executor or administrator knew or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known of the factual basis for a cause of action (M.G.L. ch. 229, § 2).
  • Product Liability – 3 Years: In cases where injuries are caused by a defective product, the statute of limitations is generally three years from the date of the injury. The limitations period starts to run when the plaintiff knows or reasonable should know that it has been harmed by the defendant’s conduct.
  • Medical Malpractice Massachusetts – 3 Years: Medical malpractice cases have a statute of limitations of three years from the date of the negligent act or within three years from the date the injury should have reasonably been discovered (known as the “discovery rule”). This 3-year requirement is codified in Massachusetts G.L. ch. 260 § 4, and allows exceptions for minors under the age of 6 (who are given until age 9). Also, the statute of limitations may be tolled (or postponed) during plaintiff’s disability.

    When plaintiff suffered harm as a result of a retained foreign object during surgery (such as medical instruments, sponges, etc.) plaintiffs cannot file a medical malpractice case beyond seven years. In cases of retained foreign objects, the limitations period starts when plaintiff discovered – or should have discovered – the foreign object.

    For medical malpractice lawsuits that involve a wrongful death claim, the statute of limitations on those cases is also three years, and begins:

    • Within three years of the date of death;
    • Within three years of the date deceased executor or administrator knew or should have known the factual basis for the cause of action.
  • Claims Against Government Entities: If your personal injury claim involves a government entity, such as a city or state agency, special rules apply. You may need to file a notice of claim within a shorter time frame, typically within two years from the date of the injury.
  • Employment Matters:
    • Two years under the Massachusetts whistleblower statute (M.G.L. ch. 149, § 185(d)).
    • 300 days, to file a discrimination claim with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and, thereafter, three years to file a civil action in Superior Court (M.G.L. ch. 151B, §§ 5 and 9).
    • Four years for workers’ compensation claims, provided that notice is given to the insurer or insured as soon as practicable (M.G.L. ch. 152, § 41).
    • Three years for claims arising under the Massachusetts Wage Act (M.G.L. ch. 149, § 150).
  • Accrual for Employment Matters:
    • For claims under the Massachusetts whistleblower statute, on the date of retaliation (M.G.L. ch. 149, § 185).
    • For employment discrimination claims, on the date of the discriminatory action (M.G.L. ch. 151B, § 5), or on the date when a discriminatory evaluation first causes tangible harm to the employee, such as denial of particular benefits or
    • positions (Verdrager v. Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo PC, 50 N.E.3d 778, 789 (Mass. 2016)).
    • For workers’ compensation claims, on the date the employee first became aware of the causal relationship between the employee’s disability and the employee’s employment (M.G.L. ch. 152, § 41).
    • For claims under the Massachusetts Wage Act, on the date of the wage violation (M.G.L. ch. 149, § 150; Crocker v. Townsend Oil Co., 979 N.E.2d 1077, 1082-84 (Mass. 2012)).

What is the Accrual Date/Discovery Rule:

 Massachusetts has unique rules and exceptions that may toll or affect any of the statutes of limitations. Depending on the cause of action and facts of the case. One importance rule is the Discovery Rule.

Massachusetts has adopted the discovery rule in circumstances “where the plaintiff did not know or could not reasonably have known that he or she may have been harmed by the conduct of another. “Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until “the plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, ‘that [he] has been harmed or may have been harmed by the defendant’s conduct.‘” (Koe v. Mercer, 876 N.E.2d 831, 835-36 (Mass. 2007).) In addition, “[t]he plaintiff need not know the full extent of the injury before the statute starts to run” (Bowen, 557 N.E.2d at 741). A cause of action accrues when the plaintiff discovers or with reasonable diligence should have discovered that:

  • He has suffered harm.
  • His harm was caused by the conduct of another.
  • The defendant is the person who caused the harm. (Harrington v. Costello, 7 N.E.3d 449, 455 (Mass. 2014).)

The discovery rule has been used in many contexts, including claims for tort, breach of contract, breach warranty of future performance and Chapter 93A violations.

Importance of the Statute of Limitations

It’s important to understand that if you fail to file a lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations, you may lose your right to seek compensation forever. Insurance companies and defense attorneys are well aware of these time limits and may exploit them to their advantage.

To ensure the best possible outcome for your case, we strongly recommend taking immediate action if you believe you have a personal injury claim. Acting promptly will not only protect your rights but also allow for the gathering of crucial evidence and the building of a strong case.

As a leading personal injury law firm in Boston, we have extensive experience navigating the intricacies of the Massachusetts statute of limitations. Our dedicated team of attorneys is ready to assist you in evaluating your case, understanding your legal options, and taking the necessary steps to pursue the compensation you deserve.

We offer a complimentary case evaluation where we can discuss the specifics of your situation, assess the viability of your claim, and provide expert guidance tailored to your unique circumstances.

Don’t let time slip away. To schedule your free case evaluation or if you have any questions, please reach out to us at 617-932-6169 or We are here to listen, advocate for you, and protect your interests.

Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to personal injury claims. Act now to secure your future.


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