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When Does the Statute of Limitations Begin to Run?

The statute of limitations exists to bar stale claims. You can have the best claim in the world, but if it’s not filed within the applicable limitations period then it is absolutely barred. The limitations periods vary depending on the claim. For instance, defamation claims are subject to a two (2) year limitation period; breach of contract claims may be subject to a five (5) or ten (10) year period, depending on the nature of the contract. More specific claims have more nuanced limitations periods. A petition to set aside a revocable living trust must generally be brought within two (2) years after the settlor/grantor dies; a petition contesting a will must usually be brought within six (6) months after the Will is probated. 

Five (5) years is the most common limitations period under Missouri statutes. But, when does the clock start ticking on the five years? Several theories have been advanced as to what the “triggers” for the limitations clock should be: (1) the moment the defendant commits the wrong, (2) the moment the plaintiff sustains substantial injury or interference, (3) the moment the plaintiff’s damages are substantially complete, or (4) the moment the plaintiff first becomes aware that he/she has been aggrieved. 

Missouri law provides that the running of the statute is measured from the time that the damages are complete and capable of ascertainment. Power v. Chaminade College Prepatory, 197 S.W.3d 576, 581 (Mo. 2006). Importantly, the point in time at which damages are capable of ascertainment is an objective inquiry. The issue is not when a plaintiff subjectively learned of the wrongful conduct that caused his or her injury — but when a reasonable person would have been put on notice that an injury occurred and would have undertaken to ascertain the extent of the damages. State ex rel. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. v. Dally, 369 S.W.3d 773, 778 (Mo. Ct. App. 2012). 

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