Putnam's Handy Law Book for the Layman

Statutes of Limitation. - In all the states statutes have been enacted which provide that if the [244]rights of parties to legal redress are not enforced within a specified period, the courts are closed to them. Thus, in most states a statute provides that a holder or owner of a promissory note who neglects to sue the debtor within six years from its maturity cannot do so afterwards. The note is not absolutely void, though the law presumes it has been paid. As the note is not void, payment may be effected as we shall soon learn.

Suppose one is indebted to a merchant, if the debt is not paid within six years in most states and nothing has happened, the debt in popular language is outlawed, in other words cannot be collected by resort to law. The time begins to run as soon as the debt has accrued; if it be a debt to a merchant, as soon as one has stopped trading with him. To the operation of this rule are some important exceptions. It does not run in favor of a minor, married woman or insane or imprisoned person; or not whenever or wherever they are not capable of contracting. But a disability arising after the statute has begun to run in his favor will not prevent it from running.

The Statute of Limitations generally bars the remedy or right to pursue the debtor in a court of law, it does not extinguish the right or debt, and therefore the right to pursue a debtor may be revived by a new promise to pay. One may ask, is not a debtor a foolish man to acknowledge that he is a debtor after the law has released him from his debt? Yes, from a purely selfish point of view. Nevertheless, the moral obligation remains, and happily all morality has not yet fled from the world. One may ask, is not such a promise void because there is no consideration received for it? No, for the reason that there was a consideration for the [245]original obligation, and this is sufficient to sustain the renewed promise to pay it. In some states the statutes provide that such an acknowledgment to pay a debt after the statute has barred it, must be in writing, and signed by the debtor or his agent. The most general rule is, to remove the bar of the statute, there must be either an express promise to pay, or an acknowledgment of the debt accompanied by an expression of willingness to pay it. To simply acknowledge the existence of a debt is not enough, there must be indicated or expressed a willingness to pay.

A debt may also be revived by part payment. Payment on account of the principal, or payment of interest on the debt will prevent the statute from running against it. Payment to have that effect must be made with reference to the original debt and in such a way as to effect an acknowledgment of it.

While a debtor may always apply a payment to any one or more of different debts he owes his creditor, if he fails to do so the creditor can make the application even to a debt which is already barred by the statute, but his application will not remove the bar to the remainder of the debt. To have that effect the appropriation must be made by the debtor himself.

Statutes of limitation apply to many obligations, and the times or dates at which they become outlawed or outside the scope of legal redress, vary in the different states. In many of them an ordinary book account or negotiable note is outlawed after six years, and cannot be enforced after that time unless the debtor has revived it by a new promise or part payment. A judgment against one usually runs twenty years.


Do It Yourself Legal Forms
Law for the Laymen - Statutes of Limitation
Page Updated 6:04 PM Saturday 4/4/2015