Statute of Limitation Can Void Ability to Recover for Legitimate Cases

The legal concept of a statute of limitations is a fixed period of time within which a lawsuit must be commenced. Under Louisiana law, the statute of limitations for a personal injury action is one year. Thus, the injured victim must commence a lawsuit within one year from the date of injury. Once the one year period runs out, the opposing party could raises it as a defense to dismiss the case unless a legal exception applies.

Typically in a personal injury case involving joint tortfeasors, filing suit against one alleged tortfeasor is a way to interrupt the statute of limitation against all other joint tortfeasors. However, per the ruling in Galling, “where no liability is found on the part
of a timely sued alleged tortfeasor, then prescription is not interrupted as to untimely sued torfeasors, as no joint or solidary obligation exists.” Moreover, according
to the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c), an amendment to a complaint could relate back to the date the original complaint was filed. However, Rule 15(c) allows “an amendment changing the name of a party to relate back to the original complaint
only if the change is the result of an error, such as a misnomer or misidentification.”

The case of Miller v. Mancuso is illustrative. On August 6, 2007, two unknown deputies unlawfully arrested Lawrence Miller and used excessive force. Miller filed suit on August 5, 2008, naming Sheriff Mancuso, “two unknown deputies,” and “XYZ Insurance Company” as defendants. On March 10, 2009, Miller amended his complaint to identify Deputies Cloud and Aymond and St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company. The district court dismissed the claim aginst Sheriff Mancuso, Miller does not appeal. Then,
the remaining three defendants moved to dismiss, alleging that Miller filed untimely claims against them. The district court granted the motion to dismiss. Miller appealed, asserting that his complaint against the deputies were timely because his March 10, 2009 amendment to his complaint should relate back to his initial pleading on August 5, 2008.

First, the court stated that the dismissal of Sheriff Mancuso eliminated his status for interruption of prescription against the deputies. Then, the court observed that Miller knew the identities of the “two unknown deputies” long before he filed his initial complaint. Miller testified that he knew Deputy Aymond’s name a couple of days after the incident and learned Deputy Cloud’s name on the night of the incident. Moreover, Miller’s wife also listed Deputies Cloud and Aymond on a complaint document on August 13,2007. The court concluded, “there was no mistake about their identities and no reason to either interrupt prescription under Louisiana law or allow the March 10, 2009, amendment to relate back to the original complaint.” Accordingly, the court affirmed the decision to dismiss the case.

The Miller case provides a good example of how important it is to name the right party in a fixed time. If you are in a case like this, an attorney with our firm that specializes in these area can help you determine which party you should name in the case.