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Understanding the Statute of Limitations for Auto Accident Claims: Why Time is of the Essence When You Call ASK GARY

Your health and safety are top priorities after a car accident. The more severe your injuries, the longer it takes to recover. Before you know it, a year or two has passed. If you need to file a personal injury claim to recover compensation for your injuries, can you still call 1-800-Ask-Gary? Our ability to help will depend on the state where the car accident happened and the statute of limitations in that jurisdiction.

What Is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations refers to laws determining the maximum time to bring a lawsuit to court. Most types of cases have statutes of limitations, including felonies and civil law cases. Personal injury cases typically have a statute of limitations ranging from as low as one year to as high as six years. Florida gives injured persons four years to file car accident claims against the at-fault driver or other responsible parties.

A car accident claim generally has the same limitations as personal injury cases, but some outliers exist. Kentucky has a statute of limitations of two years, but it offers a time limit of just one year for other types of injury claims cases. Some states might also set varying car accident claim deadlines based on whether someone died in the crash.

The statute of limitations often comes as an unwelcome surprise for people who failed to file a lawsuit before time ran out. However, legal systems provide two main justifications for setting a certain period. First, it compels affected persons to file claims while evidence is still accessible. Second, it allows potentially negligent parties to move on without the lifelong threat of a claim or lawsuit.

Are There Exceptions To The Statute of Limitations for Filing Lawsuits?

The statute of limitations period sets concrete parameters that injured persons and their attorneys must respect and obey. However, more than numbers are needed to fully explain the complex nature of these limitations and the situations that might give rise to lawsuit exceptions.

Wrongful Death

Personal injury and wrongful death cases are not the same, but they are closely related. States tend to treat them differently and might even provide different statutes of limitations. For instance, Florida’s four-year statute of limitations drops to just two years for wrongful death cases. The state generally starts its count from the date of passing.

Alleged Negligence Involving a Government Entity

Sometimes the government has a hand in the negligence that causes car accidents and property damage. This could take the form of poor infrastructure, unsafe construction, or the at-fault driver, who is also a government employee. In Florida, injured persons have only three years to file a lawsuit.

Injured Minors

Minors typically cannot file a case in court on their behalf. If their legal guardians do not take action, they may need to wait until they reach the age of majority to file a lawsuit. Ideally, minors were close to the majority age when these car accidents occurred. Otherwise, it could be difficult for them to recover the physical evidence necessary to build a strong case and pursue compensation.

Extraordinary Circumstances

Courts may extend or dismiss the statute of limitations in legal claims involving unique circumstances. Consider the hypothetical case of a single business executive who suffers a severe brain injury during a Louisiana car crash and falls into a coma. He has no next of kin to file a claim on his behalf but has medical directives and enough cash for medical treatment and to keep him on life support.

Against all odds, he awakes 12 months later and finds that he has wiped out his retirement savings paying for life support. After doing his due diligence, he files a lawsuit against the negligent party to compensate him for his losses. The statute of limitations in Louisiana is only one year, but his incapacitation and family status made it impossible to file a claim. Even though the statute has passed, Louisiana courts may choose to hear this case because of the extraordinary circumstances involved.

Do Insurance Companies Have a Time Limit?

Insurance companies may limit your time to file car accident claims. Some states set limits that insurance companies and insured parties must follow. For example, New York gives injured persons just 30 days to file insurance claims after an accident.

As you can see, insurance claim limitations are often much shorter than the statute of limitations. Compare New York’s 30 days for insurance claims to three years for filing a personal injury claim. Determine whether your state or insurance company has deadlines and file within the time limits.

How Do States Calculate Car Accident Statute of Limitations?

Ideally, you file your claim within the limitations period. If you get very close to the cut-off period, when the clock starts ticking can play a critical role in determining legitimacy. Most states count time limitations from the day the car accident occurred.

For personal injury, the count also begins when the accident occurs. There are some exceptions to this general rule in personal injury law, but it’s less applicable to car accident claims. For example, the count for medical malpractice claims might not begin when the doctor first commits an error. Instead, it may start when the person discovers the mistake.

Very few incidents involving car accidents could play out this way, but it does happen. Consider a lawsuit case where someone hires a pet sitter while on vacation. The pet sitter finds the spare keys to the car, takes it for a joy ride, and gets into an accident. He knows someone at a body shop and gets the car repaired.

The owner returns and notices something wrong when the car later develops problems. A trusted mechanic informs him that the vehicle had sustained damage years before and that someone had done a shoddy paint job to cover it. The owner checks the cloud storage for the garage camera and finds footage of the pet sitter leaving in the vehicle and returning. This is another example of extraordinary circumstances, so the court may choose to use the date of discovery instead of the date of the car accident.

What Happens If Someone Files a Claim After the Time Limit Passes?

The insurance company may deny the claim if an injured person fails to honor limitations on filing an insurance claim. If state law does not set a deadline, the insurance company may need to prove that the delay in filing compromised its ability to investigate the car accident properly. It could claim an inability to preserve relevant evidence related to vehicle damage.

When injured parties do not file an auto accident claim in time, it could be time-barred. In these instances, courts may determine the case cannot proceed because it has fallen outside its car accident statute of limitations. There are so many more unintended consequences in these situations:

  • Survivors do not recover compensation to protect the future of minors and other dependents.
  • Injured persons do not receive the compensation they need to cover medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, or other expenses.
  • Families who do not seek compensation in a timely manner may lose their homes as they struggle to pay out of pocket for expenses related to injuries or losing a loved one.
  • Negligent parties walk away from these incidents with no sense of responsibility and continue to put more people at risk.

You can significantly reduce these risks by calling 1-800-Ask-Gary as soon as possible. We cannot guarantee positive outcomes in every case. Still, we ensure our clients know their legal rights and options when they call us.