The Supreme Court has taken three cases in four years that asked when a cause of action accrues under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In the first two, the court failed to answer definitively. This time, in a unanimous opinion, the justices on Feb. 23 came close to resolving the issue but fell short, virtually ensuring reconsideration of this narrow procedural question.

In Rotella v. Wood, No. 98-896, the court rejected the more liberal option — delaying the start of the RICO clock until plaintiffs know or should know both of personal injury and the fact that it was inflicted as part of a pattern of corrupt activity. It instead adopted a narrower, more traditional rule: The statute of limitations starts running when the plaintiff knows or should know that he or she was injured — with no reference to a pattern.

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