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What Is the Statute of Limitations in a Car Accident Claim?

Many car accidents are minor fender-benders that don’t lead to injuries or fatalities. Some don’t require more than a small insurance claim for property damage. Yet, no shortage of accidents leading to injuries exists.

If you suffered injuries in a car accident, the law permits you to bring a lawsuit against the party responsible for the accident, often another motorist. In most cases, car accident victims sue the other driver’s insurance company. Regardless of who you name as a defendant in a car accident claim, you must take action before the statute of limitations runs out in your case.

It’s best to consult with an experienced car accident lawyer soon after your accident so you meet all applicable deadlines. Taking swift action gives you the best chance to recover compensation for car accident injuries. Until you have the chance to meet with a lawyer, the following preliminary information provides more details about statutes of limitations in car accident claims.

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What Is a Statute of Limitations?

Broadly speaking, a statute of limitations is a law that governs how much time someone has to take legal action after a crime or injury. Civil actions and crimes have varying statutes of limitations depending on the circumstances and the state where they occur.

In car accidents and other personal injury claims, the statute of limitations specifically refers to the amount of time a claimant has to file a lawsuit in civil court to seek compensation for damages.

Once the statute of limitations expires, the law prohibits victims of negligence from seeking damages for the accident and their injuries. Courts typically dismiss claims when plaintiffs try to bring a lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline. Each state has different statutes of limitations for different types of car accident claims.

Types of Statutes of Limitations for Car Accident Claims

The specific time limit that applies to your car accident claim can vary based on who your lawyer recommends you name as a defendant. Car accident victims have between six months and six years to bring a car accident lawsuit depending on the state where the accident occurred and the type of car accident claim they file.

Here is an overview of each type of claim.

  • Accident injury claims. Injured drivers and passengers who want to take action after a car accident have a specific time from the accident date to bring a lawsuit against another driver or business responsible for their injuries. It’s almost certain a court will not hear a case once the statute of limitations expires.
  • Wrongful death claims. The law permits eligible family members to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against a party responsible for the death of their loved one in a fatal car accident. In most states, the wrongful death statute of limitations is the same as the statute for an accident injury claim.
  • Product liability claims. Sometimes car accidents occur because of defective automobile or auto parts, such as tires or brake pads. Although this is relatively rare, victims have viable claims when they suffer injuries. The statute of limitations for product liability car accident claims varies greatly.
  • Car accident claims against a city, county, town, or government entity. Sometimes car accidents happen when a government does not properly maintain roads, or a government employee causes an accident. You could have grounds to sue the particular entity, but the time limit varies among entities. Some deadlines are as soon as six months, so it’s crucial to contact a lawyer immediately if this is your situation.
  • Medical malpractice claims. Car accidents and medical malpractice rarely intersect, but they can happen. Medical malpractice might come into play if a misdiagnosis or medication error causes a medical emergency that leads to an accident. If you find yourself in this situation, you must comply with your state’s medical malpractice statute of limitations.

Complying with the statute of limitations for your car accident claim allows you to fight for compensation for your injuries. Your lawyer can review your case and meet all necessary deadlines.

Exceptions to Statutes of Limitations in Car Accident Claims

how police run license platesThe law provides some exceptions to the statute of limitations in personal injury claims, including those that stem from car accidents. Below are some examples in which the court might extend or toll the statute of limitations for a car accident claim. If you’re concerned about a looming deadline, your lawyer can advise whether your situation might warrant an extension under the law.

Defendant Disappears

Unfortunately, some negligent drivers add insult to injury by disappearing after causing an accident. Maybe they are uninsured or do not have a valid driver’s license. People make these poor choices for various reasons.

Sometimes they want to avoid civil action or criminal proceedings. In other cases, they must leave the state for work or family obligations. You cannot serve court papers to a defendant who leaves the state or hides from the law. In this situation, the court might toll the statute of limitations until the defendant returns.

False Identity

Sometimes drivers involved in traffic accidents provide false information to the police at the accident scene. They might want to avoid financial liability, increased insurance rates, or losing their coverage.

Many who engage in this behavior commit a crime to avoid criminal prosecution for drunk driving, driving after suspension, or other major moving violations.

If an investigation fails to immediately turn up the right person, the court might pause the statute of limitations until the police, investigator, or another interested party can verify the driver’s identity and current location.

Sustaining Incapacitating Injuries

Some types of injuries leave car accident victims without the physical and/or mental capacity to file a car accident claim. Comas provide the most recognizable example. Consider a situation in which a car accident victim suffers brain damage and ends up in a coma for months or years. Someone might file a lawsuit on behalf of the car accident victim, but this is not always the case. If the victim awakens past the statute of limitations deadline, the court might grant an extension.

Delayed Discovery of Injuries

Some car accidents cause hidden injuries that victims and their doctors do not immediately discover. Typically, the statute of limitations time clock begins ticking on the date of the accident because victims discover their injuries.

If victims experience delayed discovery of their injuries, the time clock begins from the discovery date or when a reasonable person should have discovered the injury. Delayed discovery is not common in car accident claims but can happen. The time extension allows victims to take legal action after discovering an injury.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are the most common example where delayed discovery might apply to a traffic crash. Brain injuries can take weeks or months to present recognizable and diagnosable symptoms.

Even if a doctor diagnoses a TBI soon after the accident, it could take months to discover the extent of the brain damage and whether full physical recovery is possible. This is especially true of children whose brains are not yet developed. A TBI can halt or slow brain development causing lifelong problems.

Child Car Accident Victims

If an infant or child suffers car accident injuries, parents and guardians can bring a lawsuit on behalf of the minor. However, parents and guardians do not always file a claim. A court might extend the statute of limitations if they choose to take action once they turn 18.

Each situation is different, and child injury claims are notoriously complex. If your child suffered car accident injuries or you suffered car accident injuries as a child, an experienced car accident lawyer can advise you on your rights and help you determine the next steps.

When the Statute of Limitations Ends in a Car Accident Claim

If you attempt to file a car accident claim after the statute of limitations expires for your car accident claim, the other side will likely move to dismiss your case. The exceptions mentioned above provide grounds for the court to hear your case, but they might still dismiss it and refuse to grant an exception or toll the statute.

Once a court dismisses a car accident claim, the plaintiff cannot sue for compensation for injuries from the same event. Fault and the strength of your case do not matter.

Also, most car accident claims settle long before going to trial. Filing a lawsuit is often a way to bring both parties back to the negotiating table and try to avoid costly litigation.

Once the statute of limitations runs out on your car accident claim, you also lose any leverage or advantage you had with the insurance company for negotiating a fair settlement. Meeting with and hiring a car accident lawyer as soon as possible after your car accident is the best way to avoid issues related to missing a statute of limitations deadline.

Steps to Take After a Car Accident

If you have sustained injuries in a car accident, you should have already visited the emergency room for treatment. Medical treatment and lost income financially overwhelm many households after a car accident.

In addition to meeting your state’s statute of limitations deadline, these guidelines can protect the value of your car accident claim and give you the best chance to recover compensation for economic and noneconomic losses you incurred because of the accident and your injuries.

Follow Your Medical Treatment Plan

At some point after your initial emergency treatment, you probably discussed a treatment plan for your injuries with your primary doctor. If you are still in the hospital for your injuries, it’s easy to follow that plan.

Once you return home, following doctors’ orders is key to protecting the value of your claim. This includes attending all medical appointments with your doctor and other specialists like physical and occupational therapists.

Failure to comply with your treatment plan gives the insurance company grounds to argue that you aren’t healing as fast as possible or that your injuries are worsening because you aren’t engaging in treatment.

Keep Copies of Documents That Prove Economic Loss

The economic losses you incur from a car accident make up much of your claim. However, you cannot simply estimate these numbers. You must prove your economic damages.

Make copies of medical bills, payroll information, vehicle repair receipts, and other relevant receipts showing your losses. Also, document mileage and time to and from all medical appointments. It’s always better to save too much. Your lawyer can advise you on what losses and expenses apply to your claim.

Be Careful What You Say to the Insurance Company

It’s best to let your lawyer handle communications with the insurance company, but you might run into a situation where an adjuster contacts you directly. They will contact you to give a statement about the accident and might even make you an early settlement offer.

As friendly as they may appear, the insurance adjuster is not your friend. They are looking for ways to deny or devalue your claim, so refer them to your personal injury lawyer in Claire, MI. Do not accept any blame for the accident and do not let them record your statement or release your medical records unless your lawyer approves it.

Don’t Speak About Your Car Accident Claim With Others

Well-meaning friends, coworkers, and family might say something to hurt your claim if the insurance adjuster talks to them. Adjusters like to talk to as many people as possible to find evidence to downplay injuries or give them grounds to deny a claim.

If people close to you know nothing about your injuries and claim, they have nothing to share with the insurance company. Also, avoid posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms until your case resolves.

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