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

March 11, 2024
What is the Statute of Limitations in a Car Accident Claim?

Being in a car accident is often one of the most terrifying experiences of our lives. You can be going about your day, running errands, or going to work, and another driver hits you and turns your life upside down. If the other party caused the accident, state law allows you to file a personal injury claim or lawsuit for your medical bills and other losses. However, every state has a statute of limitations for a car accident claim. If you don't file your claim within that time, you forfeit the right to receive fair compensation for your losses. Read more about the car accident statute of limitations in the following article. If you have questions about your car accident case, speak to a Tampa car accident lawyer in your area today.

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What Is A Statute Of Limitations?

A statute of limitations in personal injury cases specifies how long you must file an accident claim against the at-fault person or entity. If you do not file your car accident claim in the time the state allows, you cannot obtain a financial recovery. The statute of limitations for a car accident claim means you should move quickly to file a claim or lawsuit. You should speak to a car accident attorney as soon as possible after an accident where you weren't at fault and have injuries and losses. The attorney will review your case and determine if it may lead to compensation.

Why Is There A Statute Of Limitations For Filing A Car Accident Claim?

You may wonder why there is a time limit on filing a car accident claim. After all, shouldn't you have the right to initiate a lawsuit whenever someone causes you harm? For several reasons, states have statute of limitations laws:
  • Critical accident evidence can get lost, and people's memories fade. The statute of limitations for filing a claim is in place, so all parties involved can obtain the information they need to support their allegations or mount a defense.
  • Society finds it unfair to subject individuals to the threat of a lawsuit for an extended period. For example, if there was no statute of limitations, you can be sued for a car accident you caused 25 years ago. The statute of limitations allows Americans to move forward with life without being threatened by constant litigation.

How Long Do You Have To File A Car Accident Claim?

Lawyers or attorneys examining the statute of limitations in a consultation setting with male legal professionals and business clients, within tax and legal services firms. Every state has a different statute of limitations for filing a car accident claim, but they generally run between two and four years. For example, in Florida, you have two years from the date of the injury to file your claim or lawsuit. If you don't file a claim within this time, you probably cannot receive damages in a claim or lawsuit. Most states have limited exceptions for filing a personal injury claim after the statute of limitations expires. For example, if the injury victim is a child, they may have two years from the date they turn 18 to file a claim. Or, if it was a hit and run and you don't know who the driver was, the statute of limitations clock will begin to run on the day you find out who the liable party was. Other car accidents claim statutes of limitations by state are:
  • Alabama: Two years
  • Arizona: Two years
  • California: Two years
  • Georgia: Two years
  • Illinois: Two years
  • Nebraska: Four years
  • Ohio: Two years
  • Texas: Two years
  • Washington state: Three years
In many states, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is the same as it is for wrongful death claims. For example, in Florida, the family will generally have two years from the date of death to file their claim. However, in some situations, the statute of limitations may pause under certain circumstances. You should ensure you understand your state's statute of limitations for wrongful death claims if you believe you have a claim and talk to a lawyer as soon as you can.

What Does The Statute Of Limitations Clock Start?

Usually, the statute of limitations clock starts on the day the accident happened that harmed you. For instance, if a drunk driver hits you and your state has a two-year statute of limitations, you must typically claim within two years from the date of the incident. However, there are exceptions to this rule. A common example is if you were not immediately aware of your injuries. Suppose a collision occurs in a crosswalk, and you believe you are okay. But suppose you find out months later that you have a head and neck injury that causes a loss of sensation in your extremities. The statute of limitations clock will begin to run on the date you found out about the injury. If a child suffered an injury, the statute of limitations clock doesn't start until they reach the age of majority. This is 18 in most states. Another exception that many states have is if the accident victim is mentally incapacitated or disabled or if they are in a coma. The clock will begin on the day they are not hindered anymore. Also, if the defendant goes to another state or is unavailable for some reason, the statute of limitations is paused until they are back.

What If The Defendant Is The Government?

If a car accident involves a state or local government employee, the regular statute of limitations usually doesn't apply. Claims government agencies have specific requirements. For example, in Florida, if a government employee causes a car accident while working, their employer may be liable for injuries, just as a private party would be in a similar situation. However, in many states, victims have much less time to file a car accident claim when the defendant is a government employee. In addition, there may be significant caps on how much victims can recover. For example, under Florida statute 768.28, victims are limited to a recovery of $200,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence in claims against government agencies. Ensure you promptly retain a car accident attorney after an accident involving a government employee. You have a much shorter time to file a claim. Remember that the statute of limitations for government entities varies widely by state, so review your state laws today.

What About Filing A Car Accident Claim With The Insurance Company?

Car Insurance Accident Property Protection Concept The time limit for resolving a car accident claim with the insurance company can vary. The insurance contract often states that the firm must investigate any reported accident within 30 days. However, you should review your auto insurance contract to learn the details. Most auto insurance policies require you to report any accident you have with a covered vehicle promptly, usually within 30 days, as well. If you do not report the claim within the time the insurance company requires, they can deny the claim. If you file a claim with the other driver's insurance company and think they offer too little in a settlement, your attorney can file a claim on your behalf. Ensure you file the claim within the statute of limitations. Give your car accident attorney ample time to research your case for the best chance at a favorable outcome.

Common Myths About Car Accident Claims And Statutes Of Limitations

The Internet is a wonderful source of information, but it also can contain misinformation that misleads you after a car accident. Some common auto accident claim myths are:

Auto Accident Laws Are Always The Same

State laws differ in many areas. The same holds with auto accident laws. For example, most states have a fault-based system for auto accidents. This means the at-fault party is responsible for damages resulting from the accident. Some states have a no-fault system, however. This means your insurance will cover the claim, regardless of fault. Also, statute of limitations laws vary by state, so always be sure you know the rules if you are in an accident. If you miss the deadline, you cannot file a claim for your losses.

Let The Insurance Companies Hash It Out

Some accident victims may think it's best to let the insurance companies for each driver figure out who pays for what. However, profit drives every auto insurance company. The opposing side may deny your claim without legal representation or significantly reduce your settlement. Your car accident attorney will ensure fair representation of your rights. Furthermore, if you don't hire an attorney initially and bring one in much later, they may not have enough time to research the case and file suit. The statute of limitations can expire, and you are out of luck. It's usually best to have an attorney look the case over from the beginning with an accident involving injuries and property damage.

You Always Have To Sue After A Car Accident Caused By Another Driver

Woman in side-impact crash holds her head, calling for help; man from damaged car contacts insurance. In most cases, you don't need to file a personal injury lawsuit after a car accident, even if the other driver is to blame. Most auto accident claims resolve the necessity of filing a lawsuit. You and your attorney probably just need to file an auto insurance claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company, assuming you are in a fault-based state. After filing the claim, you or your attorney exclusively handle the claim with the insurance adjuster. If a settlement eventually occurs, the court remains uninvolved. Your attorney has the experience and skill in most accident claims to get a fair settlement for your medical bills, lost work time, and pain and suffering. However, a lawsuit can become necessary if you have serious injuries or the insurance company won't offer enough money. Your attorney will ensure you file the lawsuit within the proper time frame.

You Have To Sue Right Away After The Accident

No, you have whatever time your state's statute of limitations provides. If the limit is two years, you typically have two years from the accident date to file a claim. Importantly, you can decide whether to file a lawsuit even months later, especially if your injuries are more severe than initially apparent. As long as you take action within the statute of limitations, you can pursue your claim, allowing you the necessary time to assess the full extent of your injuries and make informed decisions about legal recourse.

The Other Driver Pays Out of Pocket

Drivers are required to have auto insurance for a reason. This is so liability coverage is available in case they cause an accident. Most at-fault drivers don't have to pay out of pocket for the other party's damages. Their auto insurance usually picks up the tab. Unless a person with substantial assets injures you, you will only get money from the insurance company. However, many drivers only carry the minimum amount of auto insurance. For example, many states only require $25,000 or $30,000 of bodily injury coverage per person. This may be insufficient to pay all of your damages. If the person doesn't have significant assets, this can be the only money you can get. But if the person is wealthy, your attorney can advise if filing a lawsuit is beneficial. If you decide that filing a lawsuit is the best way to secure fair compensation, your attorney will inform you of the remaining time to initiate court proceedings. Retaining an attorney for a car accident claim as early as possible is crucial. This proactive approach ensures ample time to prepare and file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, maximizing your chances of a successful legal resolution.

Speak To A Car Accident Attorney Today

Chris Castillo, Attorney for Car Accident
Chris Castillo, Brain Injury Attorney
After a car accident, you may find yourself burdened with substantial medical bills, enduring significant pain and suffering, and facing the inability to work. Remember to promptly review your case with a car accident attorney to avoid missing the statute of limitations for filing a claim. Speaking to an experienced Tampa personal injury attorney in your area today for a complimentary consultation is essential. This proactive step ensures that you receive timely guidance and can potentially be compensated for damages and injuries, particularly if the other driver is at fault.  

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