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What is the Reasonable Discovery Rule in Personal Injury Law?

South Carolina law limits the amount of time accident victims get to file a lawsuit for compensation. The statute of limitations lays out the number of years. For many people, the limitations period never comes into play. 

In the typical accident, there’s no reason why a victim can’t sue promptly. They knew almost immediately they were injured. Think of a car crash which results in fractured ribs and a concussion, or a pedestrian who is struck crossing the street and ends up in an ambulance. These victims know an accident has occurred, so any pain they feel immediately after the crash is easy to attribute to the accident. 

Sometimes, however, it’s not so obvious that a person is injured. It takes them longer to discover their injury, so they might end up going past the deadline South Carolina affords for filing a lawsuit. If you find yourself in this position contact a lawyer at Surasky Law Firm today. 

South Carolina’s Statute of Limitations 

Like other states, South Carolina gives accident victims a limited number of years to file a lawsuit. The number is found in the statute of limitations

Generally, you get three years to file. The clock will begin on the day of the accident. So if you were hit by a truck on January 1, 2024, then you have until January 1, 2027 to file a lawsuit. If you miss this deadline—even if unintentionally—you lose the ability to sue. The statute of limitations is that unforgiving. 

For some accidents, a shorter deadline applies. For example, a government employee might have injured you, so you end up suing the state or a municipality which employs them. When the government is the defendant, you get only two years to file. 

Why does the state have a statute of limitations? Shouldn’t victims get an unlimited amount of time to file? 

Actually, a statute of limitations serves valid purposes. The more time that passes, the more likely it is that people’s memories fade. Other evidence could also disappear, which would make it harder for a defendant to defend themselves. The state wants accident victims to be proactive and stand on their rights. That means you need to file before the deadline. 

How Does the Discovery Rule Impact the Statute of Limitations? 

With many accidents, it is obvious you were hurt. You suffer a traumatic injury, and you know who is to blame. But not all accidents are this dramatic. You might not even know you are immediately hurt. Consider the following situations: 

  • Exposure at work to toxic chemicals leads to cancer or other health conditions. 

  • A doctor fails to diagnose you in a timely manner, so your cancer spreads before you receive treatment. 

  • A surgeon leaves an implement in your body, like a sponge or clamp, and years pass before you feel pain. 

In these examples, the wrongful act does not lead to an immediate injury. Three years could pass before you realize you have a disease or that an implement was left in your body. What can you do, now that the statute of limitations has expired? 

This is where the discovery rule comes in. It states that the clock doesn’t begin until you discover or could have discovered with reasonable diligence that you had a cause of action. Essentially, the statute of limitations will begin when you realize someone has wrongfully injured you. 

Reasonable Diligence & the Discovery Rule 

Critically, the discovery rule doesn’t say you can sue whenever you discover an injury. Instead, the statute of limitations will run if you reasonably could have discovered you had a cause of action. According to the South Carolina Supreme Court, this means you have a duty to investigate when you have sufficient facts that you are injured. 

For example, you might develop a rough cough and have chest pain. These are symptoms of asbestosis and other respiratory illnesses. You now have a duty to investigate further, by going to the doctor for a diagnosis. You also need to give some thought as to whether any toxic exposure has led to this medical condition. 

Essentially, the discovery rule doesn’t let you sit around and wait. The clock will begin when you have a sufficient basis to know someone has injured you. You don’t even need to know their identity—the clock has started. It’s up to you to continue the investigation and file a lawsuit if necessary. 

How a Personal Injury Lawyer Will Help 

Let’s say you get a diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma, which is cancer of the lining around your lungs. This is a common injury from asbestos exposure. Sometimes, 40 or 50 years pass between exposure and diagnosis. However, you should call our law firm once you get the diagnosis. We can help investigate what might have caused it. 

For example, you might have worked around products that contained asbestos. If you engaged in cutting, sanding, grinding, or other work with products containing asbestos, you could easily have inhaled asbestos fibers. Your lawyer will help identify where your exposure occurred and the products which contained asbestos. 

It is critical to meet the statutory deadlines for filing a lawsuit. Defendants are not afraid to raise a violation of the statute of limitations, and judges do dismiss cases with prejudice, meaning you can’t re-file later. 

Connect with an Aiken, SC Personal Injury Lawyer Today 

The discovery rule gives injured victims an opportunity to sue for compensation when a negligent act hurts them, but several years pass before they know they are injured. Nonetheless, you still have a duty to diligently investigate any potential injury. 

Cases involving medical malpractice or toxic exposure are some of the most common situations where this rule comes into play. For help, call Surasky Law Firm today. We offer a free consultation to anyone who believes their rights were violated. Our firm excels at investigations, and we can help you identify whether you can file a lawsuit. 




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