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Exceptions to Every Rule – Under Kansas Law, Parties Can Contractually Agree to Shorten the Statute of Limitations

November 13, 2014

What most everyone knows is there are fixed time periods in which you have to file a lawsuit. Further, what most everyone knows is if you don’t file your lawsuit within that time period, it is forever barred.  For example, Kansas law (K.S.A. 60-511) provides a five-year time limit for filing any lawsuit based on an agreement, contract or promise in writing.  So, if you have a dispute arising out of a written contract or agreement, the time to file any lawsuit is five years, right?  Not always.  If the written contract or agreement provides for a shorter time period, the lawsuit must be filed within that time.

In 2013, the Kansas Supreme Court handed down the case of Pfeifer v. Federal Express Corporation.  In that case, the Court held parties can enter into contracts which shorten the time period for filing lawsuits.  Prior to the Pfeifer case, it was unclear whether parties in Kansas could contractually agree to shorten the time period to file a lawsuit.  Shortly after Pfeifer, the United States District Court for the District of Kansas was faced with a question relating to enforcement of a provision in an insurance policy limiting the time in which to file a lawsuit in Infinity Energy Resources v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co.  The insurance policy in that case required the lawsuit to be filed within two years.  Given the lawsuit was not filed within the two year time limit, the Court held the case was barred.  More recently, on May 27, 2014, the United States District Court for the District of Kansas handed down an opinion in B.S.C. Holding, Inc. v. Lexington Ins. Co.  In that case, the insurance policy required the lawsuit to be filed within one year.   Again, given the lawsuit was not filed within the required time period, the Court held the case was barred.

What these cases establish is there are exceptions to almost every rule.  So while Kansas law may specify a five-year time limit for filing a lawsuit based on a written contract or agreement, if the written contract or agreement contains a shorter time period, Kansas courts will enforce it and require the lawsuit to be filed within the shorter time period.

If you get into a dispute involving any type of written document, including a dispute with your insurance carrier arising out of your insurance policy, the first thing you should do is read the document thoroughly to determine if there is a specified time period in which any lawsuit must be filed.   If there is, based on recent Kansas law, the lawsuit must be filed within that time period or it is barred.  And, if you get into a dispute involving any type of written document, it would be prudent to consult an attorney to ensure you know when any lawsuit must be filed because if you miss that deadline, the consequences can be severe.

Merry “Maggie” Tucker

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