The legal dictum “Justice delayed is justice denied” is most often associated with criminal prosecutions. But it can be equally applied to civil actions if delay is past the statute of limitations - that time in which a person is allowed to seek a remedy from a court with jurisdiction over the matter.

Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied Applied to Wills

Allen H.’s will named his son, Ethan, as his independent executor and heir to all his property. The will left nothing to Ethan’s only brother with the explanation that Tommy had received his share during the father’s lifetime. Allen H. left his bank accounts to Ethan through pay-on-death designations. He left his brokerage account, insurance policy and IRAs to Ethan through beneficiary designations. All these assets passed directly to Ethan outside of probate. The remaining asset to probate was a 300-acre homestead and ranch. Ethan, his wife and three children lived in the house and Ethan worked the ranch in addition to his full-time job. Ethan kept the taxes current and would never sell the property, so there seemed no need to hurry in probating the will. Five years after his father’s death, Ethan contacted a lawyer about administering his father’s estate.

Did Ethan Wait Too Long to Admit Allen H.’s Will to Probate? Does it Matter?

Unfortunately for Ethan, a will must be offered for probate no later than four years after the death of the testator who executed the will. Sadly, the lawyer informed Ethan that the will could not be probated. More importantly, the lawyer explained to Ethan that, since Ethan missed that deadline, Ethan’s father’s estate passes to his heirs under the laws of intestacy. When Ethan failed to probate the will on time, instead of becoming the sole owner of the homestead and the 300-acre ranch, as his father had intended, Ethan now shares an undivided interest in the homestead and ranch as a co-tenant with his brother, Tommy.

Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied Applied to Contracts

Nathan and Erin S. contracted at a cost of $40,000.00 with Wood Floors, Inc. for reclaimed pine flooring sufficient to cover all the floors of the new house they were having built. Three weeks later when the lumber was delivered, half the boards were so distressed as to be unsuitable as flooring. Wood Floors, Inc. refused to refund Nathan and Erin’s money or to replace the product the couple couldn’t use. To have the construction completed on time, Nathan and Erin were forced to obtain additional flooring from another source. This cost them $25,000.00 more - all because Wood Floors, Inc. had breached its contract with them.

Nathan and Erin’s wanted to sue Wood Floors, Inc., but they didn’t have the money to pursue their case at the time. They intended to set aside money each month toward that goal, but never seemed to get around to it. Three years later Erin inherited a substantial sum from her father. Now she and Nathan had the financial resources to file suit to recover their losses from Wood Floors, Inc. Shortly thereafter, however, Nathan’s widowed mother became ill and Erin had to supervise her care. Preoccupied with that responsibility, they put contacting an attorney regarding the contract case on the back burner. Finally, four years and a week following the date that they entered into the contract with Wood Floors, Inc. they obtained legal advice about suing.

Did Nathan and Erin Wait too Long to Sue on the Contract?

The statute of limitations for contracts in Texas is four years from the date of the breach of the contract. In Nathan and Erin’s case, Wood Floors, Inc. breached the contract when they failed to deliver suitable wood three weeks after the contract was made. Therefore, Nathan and Erin had two weeks to file suit. They could meet that deadline, but, if Wood Floors, Inc. was not served with the lawsuit during the two weeks, Nathan and Erin’s case would be dismissed if they were not able to prove due diligence in having the defendant served. Even if they met that burden, the cost of the lawsuit would be higher than it would have been without having to admit that proof.

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied Applied to Wrongful Death

Tina and Jay R. were convinced that the nursing home where Jay’s mother, Sophia, resided for the last year of her life was responsible for her death. Sophia was injected with medication intended for her roommate in the facility. Sophia had a reaction to the medication that caused her breathing to become labored and eventually to shut down. Sophia went into a coma and died two days later, on March 15, 2013.

Jay and Tina moved from Texas to New Mexico shortly after Sophia’s death. As college professors, both had heavy teaching schedules with pressure to publish annually. Consequently, Jay postponed consulting a lawyer about a wrongful death action against the nursing home until his sabbatical the summer of 2015.

Did Jay Wait Too Long to Sue the Nursing Home?

Jay waited too long to sue the nursing home. The statute of limitations for suing for wrongful death in Texas is two years. Jay needed to sue the nursing home no later than March 15, 2015 to meet that limitation.

Knowing and Complying with the Statute of Limitations is Crucial

Whatever the wrong, the remedy must be sought within the statute of limitations or the claim is barred from recovery. Therefore, any time that a wrong is perceived to have been done and damages owed, it is essential that the person harmed seek legal advice to determine the time allotted to pursue a claim.

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm, whose principal office is in Fort Worth, Texas. She lives and practices in Somervell County. If you have questions or concerns, please contact her by email at swreed2@yahoo.com or by phone at 254.797.0211.