When a person is injured due to the negligence of another, they often know instantly that they possess a personal injury claim. This is evident in automobile and trucking accidents, slip and falls, and a variety of other cases. However, there is another class of cases where people don't realize they possess a personal injury claim until months or even years after the negligence takes place. In these cases, the "discovery rule" may apply to preserve the injured person's personal injury claim.
The discovery rule is a rule of equity that provides, in appropriate cases, that a personal injury claim does not accrue until an injured person discovers, or should discover by exercise of reasonable diligence, that he or she has a claim.
For example, where a surgeon negligently leaves a medical device or foreign object inside a patient during a procedure, but the patient does not become aware of it until years later when they begin to feel physical symptoms, the limitations period on the patient's medical malpractice lawsuit will generally not begin to run until the patient knew or had reason to know of the existence of the foreign medical device.
Another example is in chemical and toxic exposure cases, including asbestos lawsuits. In these cases, the latency period - or period of time that a chemical takes to cause a disease after exposure - can be years. Under the discovery rule, a plaintiff who was exposed to a harmful chemical many years ago, but just recently develops a disease as a result of the exposure, may not be precluded from bringing a New Jersey personal injury lawsuit due to the passage of time between the exposure and the injury. Only when the chemical-related disease is or should have been discovered does the statute of limitations begins to run on the plaintiff's personal injury lawsuit.
If you are currently experiencing symptoms that you believe are related to a negligent act or omission that took place months or even years ago, you should consult with a New Jersey / New York personal injury lawyer who can analyze the facts and explain your rights. Despite the passage of time, you may still possess a claim for personal injury under the discovery rule.