Nevada’s Discovery Rule – Personal Injury Lawyer
Generally, the discovery rule is defined as a rule of common law indicating that the statute of limitations on bringing a claim does not begin to run until the date on which a claimant actually discovers an injury or loss rather than the date when the wrongful act that occurred took place. In this blog, we will take a look at Nevada’s discovery rule and how it impacts the statute of limitations in the state.
Nevada’s Discovery Rule: A Case Example
In Nevada, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the plaintiff knows of their injury, the nature of the injury, the cause of the injury, and the identity of the allegedly responsible defendant.
The plaintiff in Siragusa v. Brown, 114 Nev. 1384 (1998), challenged the district court’s decision granting summary judgment against her based upon the statute of limitations. The case started with a divorce, which then led to the Plaintiff’s allegations that a group of individuals conspired to defraud her out of the assets to which she was entitled via her divorce. The district court granted the motion for summary judgment on the Plaintiff’s fraud and conspiracy causes of action based upon the statutes of limitations. The Nevada Supreme Court reversed.
“We have held that ‘when the plaintiff knew or in the exercise of proper diligence should have known of the facts constituting the elements of his cause of action is a question of fact for the trier of fact.’” 114 Nev. 1391 (quoting Oak Grove Inv. V. Bell & Gossett Co., 99 Nev. 616, 623 (1983)). The Oak Grove case discussed the discovery rule as it related to the plaintiff’s negligence and strict liability claims. The Court in Oak Grove applied the discovery rule to those causes of action. This is noted here so that there is no concern that the Siragusa opinion only applies to fraud, conspiracy, or similar claims.
“[U]nder a discovery-based statute of limitations such as ours, the time of discovery may be decided as a matter of law only where uncontroverted evidence proves that the plaintiff discovered or should have discovered the fraudulent conduct.” Id. at 1391.
Moreover, “[u]nder the discovery rule, the statutory period of limitations is tolled until the injured party discovers or reasonably should have discovered facts supporting a cause of action.” Id. at 1392. The Court relied on an earlier opinion from Nevada, which provides “plaintiffs should not be foreclosed from judicial remedies before they know that they have been injured and can discover the cause of their injuries.” Id., quoting Petersen v. Bruen, 106 Nev. 271, 792 (1990).
In Siragusa, the Plaintiff argued that it was not enough for her to know that there was a sham transaction, but she also needed to know who was behind the sham transaction in order to discover “facts constituting a cause of action.” The Court agreed. Specifically, the Court stated “the identity of a tortfeasor is a critical element of an enforceable claim . . . The statute should not commence to run until the plaintiff with due diligence knows to a reasonable probability of injury, its nature, its cause, and the identity of the allegedly responsible defendant.” Id. at 1393.
The Court specifically looked at the use of the word “injury” in NRS 207.520, which sets a five (5) year limitation period for a racketeering cause of action. The Court stated that “injury” as used in the statute “encompasses discovery of both an injury and the cause of that injury.” Id. at 1401.
Additionally, the Nevada Supreme Court previously held that a defendant “conceals” an act or omission upon which a cause of action may be based when the defendant engages in (1) an intentional act that (2) prevents or hinders the plaintiff from learning something. Winn v. Sunrise Hospital, 128 Nev. 246, 255 (2012).
The Siragusa case is still good law and has been relied upon on various occasions not just in Nevada, but in other jurisdictions as well, some of which are described below:
- The Court cited Siragusa in Wyeth v. Rowatt, 126 Nev. 446, 463 FN 7 (2010), which involved personal injury and strict liability causes of action raised by plaintiffs who took hormone replacement therapy and later developed breast cancer. In the footnote, the Court stated that the district court acted correctly when it submitted the statute of limitations questions to the jury because there were material questions of fact and cited to Siragusa in support of that position.
- Wagner v. Chevron USA, Inc., 2009 Nev. Unpub. LEXIS 4 (Sept. 25, 2009). The Court stated that the discovery rule has been applied to causes of action for breach of contract, conversion, and other causes of action pursuant to a statute that does not specify when an action accrues. *5.
- Torrealba v. Kesmetis, 124 Nev. 95 (2008) – citing Siragusa’s discovery rule as appropriate for application to a fraud claim.
- Jackson v. Las Vegas Review Journal, 2018 Nev. App. Unpub. LEXIS 660 (Ct. App. 2018) – the discovery rule could apply to defamation and false light claims.
- Hitt v. Ruthe, 2015 Nev. App. Unpub. LEXIS 280 (Ct. App. 2015) – applying the discovery rule and citing to Siragusa when reversing summary judgment on intentional interference with contractual relations and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage claims.
The discovery rule is critical to understanding when the statute of limitations began to run in any given case. Often people assume discovery is when the plaintiff discovers the injury, but Siragusa takes that general understanding to the next logical level. A plaintiff must not only know of the injury, but also who may be liable for that injury. After all, a plaintiff cannot initiate a lawsuit if the cause of the injury is unknown or difficult to ascertain. For further assistance on these types of cases, consider contacting an experienced personal injury lawyer such as Eglet Adams to help you out.