Each state has its own statute of limitations for car accident lawsuits. Each insurance company has its own deadline for car accident claims. It’s imperative that you know and follow these deadlines; not complying could hurt your right to seek damages.
A car accident firm can help you understand the deadlines that could apply in your case, including the statute of limitations. A representative can also explain whether any tolling exceptions extend your filing period.
What Is the Statute of Limitations?
Statutes of limitations are state laws that set deadlines for legal action. These deadlines apply to prosecuting criminal matters, filing civil lawsuits, or taking other types of legal actions against another party. When it comes to the civil statute of limitations for car accident cases, the law determines how long you have to sue the at-fault driver.
The clock generally begins ticking on the day the accident occurs. Most states give victims between one and four years to begin a lawsuit. You must file the initial complaint in the appropriate court before the deadline expires.
If you miss the deadline, the judge will likely disallow your lawsuit. Your case will not move forward without a good reason why you filed late.
Your Filing Deadline Could Come With Exceptions
The court system knows that each car accident claim is different. So, it provides exceptions that give certain claimants more time to act.
Some of these exceptions include:
- The other party fled the accident scene.
- You did not discover your injuries until a later date.
- The collision happened when you were a minor.
- A mental incapacity prevented you from filing.
Importantly, some exceptions can shorten how long you have to sue. This is one reason why you should consider discussing your situation with a professional. They can evaluate your case’s details and outline how long you have to initiate legal proceedings.
The Statute of Limitations Only Applies to Civil Lawsuits
Statutes of limitations apply only to filing lawsuits. There is no state-wide deadline for filing an insurance claim after a crash. However, there are several reasons why you want to start the claims process as soon as possible. This includes the possibility of getting your money sooner. Bills often pile up quickly after a collision.
Missing the deadline to sue could make it even harder to recover fair compensation in your case. The ability to sue and take the case to trial provides significant leverage when negotiating with an insurance company. This is especially true when you have a strong case, and the insurer knows it could lose at trial.
Examples of Statutes of Limitations for Car Accident Claims
Since each state sets its own statute of limitations for personal injury cases (including car accidents), these deadlines vary widely. For example, under Georgia law, accident victims generally have two years to sue. Yet, this deadline only applies to suing individuals. Claimants have even less time to sue cities (six months).
Most states also have a statute of repose. This is the deadline you must meet regardless of any tolling exceptions. If any of these rules apply in your case, your attorney can explain how they affect your filing period.
Statutes of Limitations on Car Accident Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Some states have different statutes of limitations for wrongful death actions. When a crash victim passes away from their injuries, these laws allow someone to sue on behalf of surviving family members or other heirs. Who can sue (and when) depends greatly on these laws.
Other laws in wrongful death lawsuits govern:
- What damages certain parties can recover
- The decedent’s beneficiaries
- Who could bear liability
Many states allow certain immediate family members to sue the at-fault driver who caused a crash and fatally injured their loved one. Other states have similar guidelines. When pursuing a wrongful death case, the statute of limitations generally begins from the date of the decedent’s passing.
An attorney can help you navigate the claims process and prepare a lawsuit as necessary. They can also manage other lawsuit-related obligations, such as filing the case, presenting key evidence, and negotiating a settlement.
Why You Must to Act Quickly After a Car Accident?
Missing the statute of limitations could cost you the opportunity to recover fair and just compensation in your case. If the court bars you from suing, it could also make negotiating with the insurer difficult.
While the ability to sue the at-fault driver provides a lot of leverage in negotiations, this is not the only reason you should promptly consider your options. Other reasons to consider prompt legal action after a car accident include:
Evidence Disappears Quickly in Car Accident Cases
Some crashes have a lot more evidence than others, but it is not unusual for a lot of evidence to disappear in the days and weeks following a collision.
Some evidence, such as where the cars stopped, disappears as soon as the tow trucks leave the scene. Marks on the street and debris can disappear with the first rain. Witnesses forget the details of what they saw or change their phone numbers, making their testimony impossible to get. Most businesses with surveillance cameras that capture certain incidents only keep those recordings for one or two weeks.
The sooner your attorney can investigate the collision, the better. Sometimes, one piece of evidence makes all the difference.
Prompt Action Gives the Other Party Less Reason to Dispute Your Case
The other party, whether it’s an insurer or government agency, could contest your case if you wait too long to file. This wouldn’t necessarily bar you from seeking compensation, but it could complicate matters.
For instance, say your car accident happened in January, and you suffered a broken bone. Yet, you didn’t file your lawsuit until July of that same year. Here, the other party may wonder why it took you so long to file. It might even say that your injury came from another incident—and not the car accident.
You want to ensure your civil lawsuit has a clear path moving forward. You also want to do everything possible to keep the involved parties from contesting your case. Promptly considering your legal options (and partnering with a lawyer) could ease the financial recovery process.
Other Deadlines Could Apply
There are often additional deadlines in car accident claims and lawsuits. For example, your insurer likely has a time limit for reporting a crash. An attorney can track the deadline and ensure you meet it when possible. They understand how important deadlines are when seeking damages.
When the liable party is a government agency, the claims process looks somewhat different, and there are earlier deadlines, too. You must navigate a process that requires notifying the agency and allowing it to review the incident before you can begin your lawsuit.
This commonly occurs when a crash involves a municipal, county, or state vehicle. For instance, imagine a utility vehicle owned by the city hit your car. Rather than suing the individual driver, you could sue the government via a vicarious liability law. This comes with special deadlines not applicable to many personal injury cases.
You Want to Recover Compensation as Soon as Possible
While filing your claim sooner does not promise a faster payout, it does set your case in motion. Working on your claim as early as possible could help your attorney negotiate an agreement and get you paid faster.
A quickly resolved insurance claim is not always possible after a crash, but it is the goal. This would allow you to pay medical bills, repair your car, and take care of other expenses sooner. You would not live with financial stress related to your accident for months or even years.
The Role of Your Attorney in a Car Accident Claim: What Can They Do?
Many cases do not require a lawsuit, but some do. Your attorney can protect your rights throughout the claims process. If they believe you need to sue, they can determine your case’s deadline and take action accordingly.
With a lawyer’s help, you could recover:
- Medical bills
- Future expenses and losses
- Lost income
- Reduced ability to earn
- Car repair or replacement
- Miscellaneous expenses, such as childcare costs
- Pain and suffering and inconvenience
- Scarring and disfigurement
Throughout the legal process, a lawyer represents your best interests. They fight for justice, which includes a fair payout that compensates you for the injuries you endured. They provide guidance, advocacy, and representation. They also manage all communications with the insurance company and other involved parties. You can focus on healing and getting back to work or other activities.
A Car Accident Lawyer Can Supplement Your Case Using Evidence
Car accident attorneys handle claims and lawsuits all the time. They know how to show what happened, which driver caused the crash, and how much the incident cost their client.
They establish negligence and liability using:
- The crash report filed by the police
- Eyewitness statements
- Relevant medical records
- Photos and videos
- Accident reconstruction data
- Medical expert testimony
- Documents showing expenses and losses
A Lawyer Can Explain Whether a Lawsuit Is Necessary
As noted, many car accident cases settle through insurance claims.
Yet, your lawyer may advise filing a lawsuit if:
- The insurance company denies responsibility for the claim.
- The insurer contests certain aspects of your case.
- Punitive damages are possible.
- The insurer will not pay a fair amount.
- There is another case-specific reason why your lawyer believes it is necessary.
An attorney may recommend filing a lawsuit if the filing deadline is approaching. It is not worth risking missing this deadline. Even if they believe they are close to a deal, filing the paperwork and starting a lawsuit could protect your right to damages.
Questions and Answers About Car Accident Statutes of Limitations
While weighing your legal options, you may wonder:
Do All Personal Injury Cases Have the Same Statute of Limitations?
It depends on where you live. For instance, in Georgia, you have two years to file a car accident lawsuit and two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The same timeframe applies. However, in some cases, like New York, different statutes of limitations apply.
For instance, New York law notes that you generally have three years to file a car accident lawsuit. However, in the same state, you have but two years to file a wrongful death case.
How Do I Know if My Case Has Tolling Exceptions?
To learn whether your case has tolling exceptions, you may consider consulting a personal injury lawyer. They can review your situation and explain what exceptions (if any) apply to your legal case. Do not assume anything about your case’s filing period. Doing so could prevent you from seeking damages.
Will My Car Accident Claim Require a Lawsuit?
There’s no way to affirmatively answer this question without knowing your specific circumstances. Yet, the American Bar Association (ABA) notes that your case likely won’t go to court; only a small percentage of car accident cases see the inside of a courtroom. That’s because many claimants can reach fair agreements with insurance companies before pursuing litigation.
How Long Does a Lawsuit Take?
A lawsuit’s progression depends on the parties involved. In some instances, after filing a lawsuit, the liable insurer fairly compensates the injured party. Other times, a personal injury lawsuit goes all the way to a verdict. When that happens, it could take months to resolve a civil matter.