How Much Time Do I Have to File a Claim?
One of the first steps you should consider before filing a claim is the statute of limitations. Statutes of limitations are laws that set the maximum time after an event that legal proceedings may be commenced. Almost all claims are subject to statutes of limitations. In Wisconsin, for example, an action upon any contract must be commenced within six years. Wis. Stat. § 893.43 (2013-14). This means, for instance, that if you hired a painter in 2007 to paint your home brown, and he painted it blue, you cannot bring a claim now because more than six years have passed.
So I Have Until the Day Before the Statute of Limitations Runs to File a Claim?
Not always! Although you may file a claim within the time required by the statute of limitations, your claim may still be barred by laches. “Laches is an equitable doctrine whereby a party that delays making a claim may lose its right to assert that claim.” Zizzo v. Lakeside Steel & Mfg. Co., 2008 WI App 69, ¶ 6, 312 Wis. 2d 463, 752 N.W.2d 889. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that laches may bar a claim when three elements are met: (1) the delay in bringing the claim was unreasonable, (2) the party asserting the laches defense was unaware that the other party would assert the right, and (3) the party asserting laches has been prejudiced by the delay. State ex rel. Coleman v. McCaughtry, 2006 WI 49, ¶¶ 20, 29, 290 Wis. 2d 352, 714 N.W.2d 900.
Let’s look at the painter example discussed above. Imagine that the painter completed the work in 2011. Although your house was painted blue, you did not complain to the painter. The painter no longer has any documentation regarding his work at your house, and his memory of painting your home has significantly faded. Although your claim is within the six-year statute of limitations, a court may find that the three elements of laches are met, as (1) you knew your house was painted incorrectly in 2011 but did not act, (2) the painter was unaware that you were unhappy with his work and would be bringing this claim, and (3) the painter is prejudiced because his memory has faded and he will not be able to adequately defend himself.
If you have a claim that you have been waiting to file, act as soon as possible to avoid being barred by laches or statutes of limitations. Contact us at 262-422-6607 to set up a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys to discuss your case