Statute of Limitations

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One of the more common questions referred to the Legal Research Committee is the question of how long an individual has to file a claim after the occurrence of the event which has precipitated that claim (the "cause of action"). The General Laws of Massachusetts provide for different rules for different situations, with laws that are most commonly known as statutes of limitations governing different situations.

Enforcement of Contracts - 6 Years

The "generic" statute of limitations for claims to enforce contracts, whether express or implied, where no special instance is implicated, is six years; this standard only applies to actions of contract or other liability, and does not cover personal injuries. Filing a lawsuit to collect credit card debt falls within this statute of limitations. (Billing for bad debts has no statute of limitations.)

Enforcement of Consumer Protection Law - 4 Years

The consumer protections under Chapter 93A, or under the lemon law, or any other laws intended to protect consumers, may only be enforced within four years after the cause of action. The statute of limitations, however, is suspended during any legal proceedings to enforce the law, and for one year afterward to allow additional plaintiffs to file claims on the basis of the same cause of action. The Uniform Commercial Code also specifically extends the applicability of this law to enforcement of the UCC protections regarding sales and warranties, as well as leases.

Fraudulent Transfer or Obligations - 1 or 4 years

A transfer involves real property or assets exchanged between two parties. If a transfer or obligation is "voidable" (which is subject to the definition of voidable in M.G.L. c. 109A § 9), generally the law allows 4 years within which to file a claim. The one year limitation applies only in rare circumstances when the claim was made before the transfer was completed. Voidable transfers typically occur when a contract such as a lease is not signed in good faith or when a "reasonably equivalent value" has not been offered for real property or assets.

Claims in Regard to Home Improvements - 3 and 6 Years

Any claims that pertain to deficiencies in improvements to any sort of real property (e.g., land or a building or home) must be filed within three years and after the cause of action, provided that the filing also occurs less than six years after the completion of work or the occupancy of the new construction by the owners. There are slightly different rules for public housing authorities.

Civil Enforcement of the Criminal Law - 1 Year

Where the government allows for citizens suffering property loss from criminal activity (e.g., theft) to reclaim that property by civil litigation, such suits must be filed within one year following the criminal cause of action. In instances in which the commonwealth would be a plaintiff, however, the statute of limitations is extended to two years. Criminal activity that is governed by consumer protection statutes does not fall under this rule.

Actions of Tort and Personal Injury - 3 Years

All suits intended to collect damages from individuals from causing, through negligence or malicious intent, harm or injury to the person filing the claim must be filed within three years of the cause of action.

Claims Against the Commonwealth or Towns - 3 Years

Any claims filed against the Commonwealth, or any of its municipalities, or any agents or employees of either, except sheriffs, must be brought within three years after the cause of action. More importantly, though, claims against these entities, with the sole exception of any public housing authorities, must be brought in superior court only, and cannot normally be heard in small claims court.

Attorneys, Accountants, and Hairdressers - 3 Years

Claims against attorneys, accountants, and hairdressers for malpractice or error must be filed within three years of the cause of action

Doctors, Dentists, and Hospitals - 3 and 7 Years

Claims against doctors, dentists, and hospitals for malpractice or error must be filed within three years of the cause of action, though never more than seven years after the initial event which was to become the cause of action, with the exception of the case in which the plaintiff alleges that the doctor erroneously left an object in the plaintiff's body during surgery.

Claims Against Sheriffs - 4 Years

Any claims filed against sheriffs acting in their official capacity must be brought within four years after the cause of action.

Real Estate Time Shares - 4 Years

Claims filed about breaches of warranties in real estate time shares have a 4year limitation of action. Most of the cases filed using this statute will depend on the nature of the time share contract. An "express warranty" is created when any description, affirmation of fact, or promise relating to the time share is given, so any gross deviation from these statements could be the motivation for a small claim. By mutual consent, parties can agree to reduce the limitation of action to no less than 2 years.

Worker's Compensation - 4 Years

Notice must be given to the insurer or insured as soon as practically possible. A claim for workers' compensation due to injury must be "filed within four years from the date the employee first became aware of the causal relationship between his disability and his employment. In the event of death, no claim shall be made later than four years after the death".

Custodial Trusts - 5 Years

A claim for relief to recover from a custodial trustee for fraud, misrepresentation, or concealment related to the final settlement of the custodial trust or concealment of the existence of the custodial trust, shall be barred unless an action or proceeding to assert the claim is commenced within five years after the termination of the custodial trust

Hit-And-Run Accidents - 6 Months and 3 Years

Actions arising from hit-and-run accidents that have been properly reported to the Registry of Motor Vehicles within thirty days of the accident may be filed within six months of the plaintiff determining the identity of the defendant, other, more restrictive statutes notwithstanding, but no action may be filed more than three years after the accident.

Destruction of Artwork - 1 and 2 Years

Claims filed to recover damages from destruction to artwork must be filed within one year after the discovery of the damage or within two years of the cause of action, whichever is later.

Satisfaction of Judgment - 20 Years

"A judgment or decree of a court of record of the United States or of any state thereof shall be presumed to be paid and satisfied at the expiration of twenty ears after it was rendered"

Non-resident Defendants, Suspension of Limitation

Generally, limitations of actions do not apply to non-resident defendants until they enter the commonwealth of Massachusetts. In other words, "the clock is not ticking" until a defendant enters the state. If a defendant leaves the state after the alleged wrongdoing has occurred, then the time in which he is not in MA is suspended-that is, the time does not count toward the limitation of the action.


The actual limitation of action on counterclaims obviously depends on the nature of the action, but the time limit begins at the same time as the original incident occurred. In other words, counterclaims are bound by the same restrictions as regular claims are