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

When you’re involved in a car accident, you may face several issues, including an extensive road to physical recovery, mounting medical expenses, and vehicle damage. For this reason, you’ll likely consider pursuing fair compensation from the at-fault party.

The journey toward financial recovery looks different for everyone, as every collision case varies. However, there is one critical detail to remember: a statute of limitations restricts the time you have to file your legal claim for compensation.

Keeping the statute of limitations in mind is key to help ensure you don’t miss your opportunity to obtain just monetary recovery. A car accident attorney can handle your case in a timely manner and seek favorable case results on your behalf.


What is a Statute of Limitations?

Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a law that limits the time plaintiffs have to file their lawsuits in court. The duration allowed by the statute varies depending on the nature of the case and the location of the court. Statutes of limitations apply to both civil and criminal cases.

Everyone must note the statute of limitations for their type of case and their state. Each state sets a statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, which encompass car accident cases. Missing the time to file your claim can negatively affect your financial recovery, often making it impossible to obtain full compensation.

Never wait to hire a car accident lawyer who can identify the statute of limitations for your car accident claim.

Why Statutes of Limitations are Important

Statutes of limitations are often viewed as inconvenient. So why do they even exist?

While statutes of limitations can be problematic for some, they exist for certain important reasons. Statutes of limitations can benefit everyone in a case in some way, from plaintiffs to defendants and even courts.

Statutes of Limitations Help Ensure Evidence is Available

Over time, evidence can be lost or become unavailable. Additionally, memories can fade, making it more difficult for involved parties and witnesses to recall details about events.

Statutes of limitations motivate plaintiffs to take legal action sooner rather than later, helping prevent issues with unavailability of evidence or forgotten information. The sooner you take action, the more likely you will acquire pertinent evidence and remember key details.

Plaintiffs aren’t the only parties in a lawsuit that deserve protection from the law. If statutes of limitations didn’t exist, individuals could file lawsuits at any time, even several years after the occurrence that gives rise to the legal claim.

Statutes of limitations restrict the time plaintiffs have to file their claims in court, therefore protecting potential defendants from unfair or frivolous lawsuits. This, in turn, helps courts avoid wasting time on claims without merit.

Statutes of Limitations for Car Accident Claims

Car accident cases also have their own statute of limitations. Therefore, following a collision, it’s essential to determine how much time you have under your state’s statute.

Statutes of limitations for car crash cases vary by state. Generally, you’ll have one to six years to file your claim in court after an auto accident. For example, in both New Hampshire and Vermont, you only have three years to file a lawsuit in civil court. However, in neighboring Maine, you have up to six years to file your claim.

It is helpful to note that car accident claims fall under the broad area of personal injury. Still, car crash claims in your state may have different statutes of limitations than other types of personal injury claims, such as medical malpractice or wrongful death. For this reason, it’s necessary to note the exact statute specific to car accidents.

Pursuing Fair Compensation Following an Auto Collision

Seeking Fair Compensation

Statutes of limitations have to do with lawsuits. Based on your situation, you may or may not have to file a personal injury lawsuit to obtain favorable compensation for your auto accident injuries and losses.

Filing an Insurance Claim

In many cases, you’ll begin by filing an insurance claim. If your state follows fault rules, you’ll file a third-party claim with the at-fault party’s auto insurer. When your accident occurs in a no-fault state, you can pursue compensation by filing a first-party claim with your own insurer.

Sometimes, an insurance claim is all you need to receive the financial recovery you need. You may settle your claim directly with the insurance company without needing to file a lawsuit. In a situation like this, you will not need to worry about the statute of limitations since your claim didn’t involve a lawsuit.

However, insurance companies are notorious for being difficult. You may file your collision claim, but the insurance company may not agree to settle your claim for a fair amount. In this scenario, you might consider proceeding with legal action and filing a personal injury lawsuit in court.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your auto insurance claim does not yield favorable results, you’ll need to consider filing a lawsuit. This is where the statute of limitations comes in. You must ensure your claim is filed as quickly as possible to avoid missing your window of time.

Often, your lawyer can begin the process by sending the insurance company a demand letter. Within the letter, your attorney includes numerous key pieces of information, specifically those regarding your collision, resulting injuries, and the insured’s liability.

In a demand letter, your lawyer “demands” a settlement and states that without a fair settlement, they plan to take further legal action, meaning filing a lawsuit in court. Sometimes, insurance companies want to avoid lawsuits altogether, serving as motivation to settle the claim. Other times, insurance companies fail to take steps to settle, forcing your lawyer to proceed with a lawsuit.

Depending on the circumstances of your collision, you may begin your pursuit of just compensation with a lawsuit. For example, if the at-fault party is not insured, you may consider filing a lawsuit against them to seek monetary recovery. In a situation like this, you should act quickly and file your claim in court to ensure you’re within your allotted time.

Whether your claim involves a lawsuit or not, you should rely on a car accident attorney for assistance. A qualified lawyer can determine how best to seek financial recovery and handle the case promptly.

Working with the Statute in Mind

At every moment of your claim, you should always keep your state’s statute of limitations in mind. Because your case may involve several pre-lawsuit steps, you want to give yourself enough time to do what is necessary without missing your chance to file your lawsuit.

It’s important to understand that the time clock begins running the moment your accident occurs. So, for example, if your state statute gives you three years to file your claim, and your collision occurred on May 20, 2023, you will only have until May 20, 2026, to file your claim, absent any exceptions. While this may seem like plenty of time, it’s not, and time goes by rather quickly.

Therefore, it’s best to keep the statute of limitations in your mind and act as quickly as possible following your car crash. Waiting several months, or even a year or more, gives you and your lawyer much less time to handle pre-suit matters that must be addressed. Giving yourself and your attorney enough time can positively impact your case.

What Happens if You Don’t File Your Claim within the Statute of Limitations Period?

Failing to File Your Claim within the Statute of Limitations Period

Courts take statutes of limitations seriously. So what happens if your time expires to file your claim?

Even if your time has expired under your state’s statute of limitations for car accidents, you may still file your claim in court. While this might seem promising, it doesn’t mean the court will actually accept and hear your case.

If the court doesn’t first notice the expired time and the opposing party notices the statute of limitations has run, they can bring it to the court’s attention. Once the court confimrs you filed your claim past the statute’s allotted time frame, they will likely dismiss your case. One way or another, the court is bound to notice you’ve missed your time to file your claim, which can effectively end your lawsuit before it even gets underway.

After the court dismisses your personal injury case, you’ll no longer have the opportunity to proceed with your lawsuit seeking compensation for your injuries and losses. This is the main reason why it’s vital to file your claim on time. Prompt filing allows you to safeguard your rights and avoid the disappointment of having your case thrown out with little or no other options.

Are There Ever Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations?

Some states’ laws allow for exceptions to the statute of limitations. The exact exceptions vary by state, so it’s helpful to understand how your state’s statute of limitations exceptions work.

Exceptions may either extend the time you’re allowed or make the timeline even shorter, depending on the circumstances. Certain exceptions to statutes of limitations for car accidents include:

  • The plaintiff is underage: If the plaintiff in an accident case is under 18, the statute may be “tolled,” meaning the time clock stops and won’t begin running until the plaintiff’s 18th birthday.
  • The plaintiff is mentally incapacitated: Should the plaintiff suffer from mental incapacity, state law may provide additional time to allow the plaintiff to recover from their incapacity, if possible.
  • The defendant leaves the state: When the defendant leaves the state before the plaintiff files their claim, the statute of limitations may allow more time for the defendant to return.
  • The defendant is a governmental entity: If your accident is caused by a governmental entity, normal statutes of limitations don’t usually apply, and you may have much less time to pursue compensation.
  • The plaintiff dies from their accident injuries: When accident victims die as a result of their injuries, this turns the case into a wrongful death situation, which typically has a different statute of limitations.

Not all states approach statutes of limitations and exceptions the same way. Consequently, it’s best to consult a skilled car accident attorney to steer clear of misinformation and ensure you file your claim timely based on your situation.

The Importance of Having a Car Accident Attorney

Car Accident Attorney

Don’t think twice if you’re on the fence about hiring a car accident attorney following your collision. A seasoned lawyer can bring peace during a confusing time and help attain the best possible outcome for your claim.

Car accident attorneys wear many hats during a case. They primarily serve as your legal advocate but are also available to offer care and guidance during challenging moments. Among the many tasks car accident lawyers take on, including proving fault, gathering evidence, and negotiating settlements, they also ensure your claim is filed within the designated time.

When you hire an attorney, you don’t have to worry or wonder whether your claim will make it to court on time. Your lawyer has a firm understanding of the statute of limitations in your area, as well as any exceptions your case may qualify for.

After your auto collision, consult a car accident lawyer as soon as possible. The quicker you meet and hire your lawyer, the more time they’ll have to properly handle your case and file your lawsuit if need be.

Many car accident victims miss their chance to obtain the compensation they need and deserve because of a missed statute of limitations deadline. Don’t forfeit your rights to full and fair financial recovery. Take action right away and learn about your state’s statute of limitations for auto collisions.

Don’t wait too long following your car crash to discuss your case with a local personal injury lawyer. An attorney can protect your rights, fight for your best interests, and do whatever is necessary to reach the most favorable case result, all within the legal timeframe allowed by the statute of limitations.