The “statute of limitation” is the deadline by which a person must file a lawsuit.  Unless some exception applies, if a person fails to file a complaint or petition within the applicable deadline, the claim will be barred, unless some exception applies.

So, what are the relevant deadlines for claims for abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of vulnerable or incapacitated adults in Arizona?  When do the deadlines start running?  After a brief introduction to statutes of limitation, we will answer those and other questions below.

Arizona’s Typical Statutes of Limitation

As you might suspect, the Arizona legislature adopted statutes of limitation for claims for several reasons.  For example, the longer a party waits to pursue their claims the more likely that evidence will be lost, making it potentially more difficult to defend the claims.  The law also wants to encourage the prompt pursuit and resolution of claims, rather than allowing parties to pursue stale claims.

Arizona’s statutes of limitation vary widely depending on the type of claim being asserted.  For example, claims based on the violation of a statute generally have to be filed within one year.  On the other hand, a person generally has six years to bring a claim based on the breach of a written contract.

For claims against government officials or entities, typically, a party must present an official “notice of claim” within six months and then file a lawsuit within one year.

Arizona also has various special rules for when the deadlines start and, sometimes, stop running.  For example, as explained below, the limitation period will not run during any time that the victim is a minor or of “unsound mind.”

The “Discovery Rule”

Generally, Arizona follows the “discovery rule” for determining when a claim accrues (a person has a right to bring a claim).  The  period to bring a claim (the statute of limitation) begins running when the claim accrues.

“Under the discovery rule, … a cause of action does not accrue until the plaintiff knows or with reasonable diligence should know the facts underlying the cause [of action].” Doe v. Roe, 191 Ariz. 313, ¶ 29, 955 P.2d 951, 960 (App. 1998); see also Walk v. Ring, 202 Ariz. 310, 316, ¶ 22, 44 P.3d 990, 996 (2002); Little v. State, 225 Ariz. 466, ¶ 9, 240 P.3d 861, 864 (App. 2010). In other words, “the plaintiff must at least possess a minimum requisite of knowledge sufficient to identify that a wrong occurred and caused injury.” Doe, 191 Ariz. 313, ¶ 32, 955 P.2d at 961.

In summary, an injured person must have sufficient information to comprehend that they were injured by someone, such that they would be on notice to investigate whether their injury was caused by a violation of some law or “fault”.  The injured party must also suffer some tangible quantifiable injury.  Only then will the limitation period generally begin running.

There are numerous nuances, special rules and exceptions that may apply.

Tolling for Minority or Unsound Mind

For example, in probate litigation, we often deal with claims on behalf of individuals who have various mental impairments.  The limitation period does not run on claims for a person who is a minor (under 18 years old) or of unsound mind.  Specifically, pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-502

If a person entitled to bring an action other than those set forth in article 2 of this chapter is at the time the cause of action accrues either under eighteen years of age or of unsound mind, the period of such disability shall not be deemed a portion of the period limited for commencement of the action. Such person shall have the same time after removal of the disability which is allowed to others.

Again, there are numerous special rules, considerations and exceptions that are often relevant in analyzing whether a claim was timely asserted.  Consult an experienced attorney if you have any questions.  Let us know if you have any questions.

The Statute of Limitation for Financial Exploitation Claims

Arizona’s Adult Protective Services Act is designed to protect Arizona’s large population of vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect or financial exploitation.  It is a remedial statute that must be interpreted broadly to protect Arizona’s vulnerable and/or incapacitated adults.

The Act includes numerous important provisions, one of which is a very favorable statute of limitation.  Specifically, A.R.S. § 46-455(K),

The initiation of civil proceedings pursuant to this section shall be commenced within two years after actual discovery of the cause of action.

The phrase “actual discovery of the cause of action” differs from other Arizona statutes of limitation.  Typically, the statutes merely state that  a claim must be filed within a certain deadline after the claim “accrues.”  As explained above, when a claim accrues in Arizona is generally governed by the “discovery rule” – when the plaintiff knows or with reasonable diligence should know of the fault and injury.

In the Adult Protective Services Act, however, the legislature did not state that the time to file starts running from when the claim accrues.  Instead, they specified that the time runs from “actual discovery of the cause of action.”  That phrase is not defined in the Arizona Act or anywhere else in Arizona law.  In particular, the legislature did not identify who needs to actually discover the cause of action in order to start the clock running.  So, we were excited to learn that on August 10, 2021 Division 2 of the Arizona Court of Appeals decided a matter involving the statute of limitation for financial exploitation claims: read about In Re Norvelle.

Our Probate Litigation Firm is Here to Help

If you have any questions about claims for financial exploitation or abuse/neglect of vulnerable adults in Arizona, including the statutes of limitation, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  Our experienced caring attorneys are here to help.