By Barbara M. Callahan, Esq.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA) protects servicemembers from certain judicial proceedings until they return from military service, deployment or overseas tours of duty. The Act offers important protection for those of us that have been recalled to active duty to Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere in support of the Global War on Terrorism. The Act’s purpose is “to enable such persons to devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the Nation.” 50 U.S.C. Appendix § 502.
Covered servicemembers include those on active duty in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, certain members of the National Guard recalled to active duty for more than 30 days, and certain members of the Reserves recalled to active duty. Some sections of SCRA may afford protections to a servicemember’s family, including a spouse and children.
Section 526 of the Act deals with the tolling of statutes of limitation during military service. A statute of limitation is a law that sets out a time limit to bring a legal action in certain cases. If you do not file suit within the period of time set forth in the applicable statute of limitation, and an exception does not apply, your case may be forever time-barred.
The statute of limitation for filing a personal injury lawsuit in Massachusetts is three years. In most, but not all cases, the statute of limitation clock begins to tick or “run” on the date of the injury. Sometimes there are things, like the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, that can “toll” or suspend the running of the statute of limitation clock. As a practical matter, a tolling extends the period of time in which one can file suit.
50 U.S.C. Appendix § 526 (a) states, “the period of a servicemember’s military service may not be included in computing any period limited by law, regulation, or order for the bringing of any action or proceeding in a court, or in any board, bureau, commission, department, or other agency of a State (or political subdivision of a State) or the United States by or against the servicemember or the servicemember’s heirs, executors, administrators, or assigns.” 50 U.S.C. Appendix § 526 (a).
In personal injury cases, this section of the Act automatically suspends the three year statute of limitation for the duration of the active duty service. The Courts have held that the Act applies to both federal and state civil actions and it is immaterial under the Act if the cause of action accrued prior to or during the period of service.
If you were involved in an accident, and you (or the person you think may have caused the accident) were on active duty during or after the accident, the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act may extend the period of time you have to file suit for the duration of the service. This is an important protection that could save your lawsuit from being time-barred. Statutes of limitation can be complicated and the consequences for missing them can be severe. As a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I’d be happy to help you determine if the Act has given you additional time in which to bring a personal injury suit in Massachusetts.