Statutes of limitation or prescriptive periods pertain to the period within which a suit must be filed in court. Failure to bring the case to court within this allowed period results to a waiver of the right. Thus a claim filed outside the period set by the statute of limitations is considered expired and will automatically be dismissed by the courts. The result is the loss of the right to file a claim. This notion is founded on the likelihood, based on experience, that the alleged right which accrued in the distant past never existed or has already been extinguished.
Another purpose of statutes of limitations is to protect those who are diligent and vigilant in asserting their rights. The law seeks to encourage litigants to file cases while the incident in question is fresh in their minds. Cases filed early or close to the incident involved afford the parties and the court more chance to gather evidence while they are still available. The more recent the evidence, the better the chance for the court to judge the case properly. Moreover, no time is wasted looking for relevant evidence since the incident is still recent. On the contrary, the law discourages complacency and idleness by forfeiting privileges of litigants who sleep on their rights. Even if a right of action exists, the party careless in the assertion of his right should suffer the inconvenience caused by the lapse of time.
For practical purposes, it would also be difficult for the court to decide a case properly if the evidence presented is very old. The lapse of time increases the possibility that objects and testimonies presented as evidence are inaccurate or altered. Hence, the court would rather leave the negligent party to suffer the consequences than commit an injustice by deciding against an innocent party.
The specific statutes of limitation are dependent on many factors. The period is usually established by legislature. Some of the factors considered in fixing the period of prescription are: the nature of the action whether criminal or civil, the degree of evidence necessary to prove a case, the amount of damages involved, the probability of discovery, as well as the status of the parties involved. Generally, written contracts have longer prescriptive period than verbal contracts. Grave criminal offenses have a longer prescriptive period than petty crimes. In some jurisdictions, heinous crimes are not subject to a definite prescriptive period.
Lastly, fixing the prescriptive period will depend on when the right of action accrues. Hence, it is important to note when the period of prescription will begin to run. Generally, the right to file a case begins on the date the act leading to te lawsuit was committed. However, where the act was concealed, the period of prescription begins on the discovery of such act.