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What’s the Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Claims?

March 27, 2024

If you’ve been in a car accident, you might be wondering – how long do I have to file a claim? The answer depends on where you live, but in general there’s a time limit called the “statute of limitations.” Miss that deadline and you could lose your right to compensation.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations is basically a law that sets a time limit on how long you have to file a lawsuit or make certain legal claims. Every state has its own statute of limitations laws that cover different types of cases. For personal injury cases like car accidents, the clock usually starts ticking on the date of the accident itself.

But the statute of limitations isn’t just one set timeframe. The amount of time you have to file depends on the type of case and can range from 1 year all the way up to 6 years or more in some states. It’s a strict deadline too – if you try to file your case even one day after the statute expires, the court will likely dismiss your whole case. No exceptions.

Why Have a Statute of Limitations at All?

You might be thinking – why do we even have these statute of limitation laws in the first place? Isn’t it unfair to just cut people off from getting justice?

Well, the main reasons are:

  • Ensuring cases are brought while evidence is still available and witnesses’ memories are fresh
  • Encouraging plaintiffs to act diligently and not sit on their claims forever
  • Providing certainty and finality to defendants after a reasonable period of time

So while it may seem harsh, these deadlines are meant to keep the legal system running smoothly and prevent cases from dragging on indefinitely. The courts figure if you had a legit claim, you’d make it in a reasonable timeframe.

Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Lawsuits

Okay, so how long is the statute of limitations specifically for car accident injury claims? As mentioned, it varies by state but generally:

  • For personal injury claims, the statute of limitations is 2-3 years in most states
  • For property damage claims, it’s usually 3-6 years
  • For wrongful death claims stemming from a fatal car accident, it’s typically 2 years

Some examples of statute of limitation timeframes in different states:

  • New York: 3 years for personal injury, 3 years for property damage
  • California: 2 years for personal injury, 3 years for property damage
  • Texas: 2 years for personal injury, 2 years for property damage
  • Florida: 4 years for personal injury, 4 years for property damage

So in New York for instance, if you were injured in a car crash on June 1, 2022 – you’d have until June 1, 2025 to get your personal injury lawsuit properly filed in court.

But again, these are just general guidelines. There are exceptions that could change the deadline. Your best bet is to consult with an experienced car accident lawyer in your state ASAP after an accident to make sure you don’t miss the filing window.

What If I Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline?

If you try to file your car accident lawsuit after the statute of limitations has already expired, the defendant will certainly ask the court to dismiss your case. And unfortunately, in most situations the court will have to grant that request based on the statute of limitations law.

There are a few rare exceptions where the statute can be “tolled” or paused, such as:

  • If the plaintiff was a minor child when the accident occurred
  • If the defendant took steps to intentionally conceal their liability
  • If the plaintiff was mentally incapacitated or incompetent

But in general, once the statute clock runs out, you’re pretty much out of luck for filing a car accident lawsuit related to that incident. That’s why it’s crucial to get your claim started well before the deadline.

Why You Shouldn’t Wait Until the Last Minute

Even though you technically have years to file a lawsuit after a car accident, I’d advise against cutting it too close to the statute of limitations cutoff. Waiting until the last minute is a bad idea for a few key reasons:

  • Gathering Evidence Gets Harder Over Time
  • The Insurance Carrier Could Deny Your Claim
  • You Could Make Mistakes on Paperwork
  • Negotiations Take Time

So for all those reasons, it’s best to get the claims process started ASAP after an accident – certainly within a few months, not years. The sooner you act, the better your chances of a fair outcome.

How to Ensure You Meet Deadlines

Since blowing past the statute of limitations could be absolutely catastrophic for your case, make sure you take steps to protect yourself, like:

  • Contacting a car accident lawyer immediately after the crash to understand the deadlines
  • Requesting a “tolling agreement” from the defendant to extend the statute if needed
  • Carefully calendaring all relevant dates and setting reminders
  • Not waiting until the last minute to file suit if settlement talks stall

Your attorney should be keeping meticulous track of all the key dates and deadlines. But don’t just assume they’re on top of it – stay involved and ask questions so you understand the timeframes too.

Other Important Deadlines Besides the Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations isn’t the only deadline you need to watch out for in a car accident case either. Depending on your state’s laws and the circumstances, other critical dates could include:

  • Deadline for filing an insurance claim or claim notice
  • Deadline for requesting a trial (if arbitration is required first)
  • Deadline for serving the defendant with the lawsuit after filing
  • Deadline for the defendant to respond to the complaint
  • Statute of repose cutting off claims after a set number of years (separate from statute of limitations)

Again, an experienced car accident lawyer will ensure you don’t miss any of these key deadlines that could jeopardize your case. Don’t try to go it alone when so much is at stake.

Statute of Limitations and Comparative Negligence Laws

One factor that could impact the statute of limitations in a car accident case is your state’s comparative negligence laws. This covers situations where both the plaintiff and defendant share some degree of fault.

In “pure” comparative negligence states, you can still recover damages from the other party even if you were 99% at fault for the accident. But your damages would be reduced by your percentage of fault.

In “modified” comparative negligence states, you’re barred from any recovery if your percentage of fault exceeds a certain threshold (usually 50% or 51%).

So in a modified comparative negligence state, if you were determined to be 50% or more at-fault, you could miss the statute of limitations entirely and be unable to file suit at all.

That’s why it’s critical to have a full investigation into the accident’s causes and make sure you don’t sleep on the filing deadline based on incorrect fault assumptions.

Hit a Pedestrian or Bicyclist? The Deadline Could Be Shorter

While the standard statute of limitations for most car accident injury cases is 2-3 years, some states have special rules with shorter deadlines if:

  • A vehicle hits a pedestrian
  • A vehicle hits a bicyclist or other non-motorized transportation

For example, in New York the regular statute of limitations for a car accident injury claim is 3 years. But if the accident involved a vehicle striking a pedestrian, the statute of limitations is only 1.5 years.

The reason? Pedestrian and bicycle accidents are seen as particularly serious, so the law encourages quicker resolution of those cases.

So pay close attention to the specific statute of limitations that applies based on the accident details. Don’t just assume you automatically get 2-3 years.

Hit By an Uninsured Driver? You May Have More Time

On the flip side, some states extend the statute of limitations if you were hit by an uninsured driver and need to make a claim through your own uninsured motorist coverage.

For example, in California the regular statute of limitations for a car accident injury claim is 2 years. But if you were hit by an uninsured driver, you get 3 years to file an uninsured motorist claim against your own insurance policy.

The rationale is that dealing with an uninsured driver creates extra complications, so you get more time. But this extension doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re filing a claim directly against the at-fault driver.

Don’t Sleep on the Statute of Limitations

At the end of the day, the statute of limitations is one of the most important deadlines to keep in mind after any car accident where you intend to seek compensation for injuries or vehicle damage. Miss that cutoff date and you could be completely barred from getting any recovery at all.

So as soon as possible after an accident, get advice from an experienced car accident lawyer about:

  • Exactly what statute of limitations applies to your case
  • When that clock started ticking
  • How to properly calculate the deadline to file suit
  • Whether any exceptions or extensions could apply

Then get the claims process started right away. Don’t wait until months or years have gone by, making your case harder to prove and running up against that unforgiving statute of limitations deadline.

What If I Have More Questions?

If you’ve been in a car accident and have more questions about the statute of limitations or filing a claim, just reach out to our office for a free, no-pressure consultation. Our car accident lawyers have decades of experience dealing with these types of cases and can make sure you don’t miss any crucial deadlines.

We’ll go over all the details of your specific situation and map out a clear plan of action to protect your rights and put you in the best position to maximize your compensation. Don’t try to navigate this complicated process alone – get Spodek Law Group in your corner from the very start.

About Spodek Law Group

Spodek Law Group is a top-tier criminal defense law firm with over 50 years of combined experience. Our team of former prosecutors has an unparalleled understanding of how the other side operates. We leverage that insight to develop a comprehensive legal strategy for our clients charged with federal crimes.

Our federal criminal defense attorneys have represented clients in some of the most high-profile cases nationwide. We’ve been featured in major media outlets like the New York Times, New York Daily News, and USA Today for our work.

No matter how complicated or serious the allegations, our federal lawyers have the skills and resources to mount an aggressive defense. We fight tirelessly to protect our clients’ rights, reputations, and freedom.

If you or a loved one is facing federal charges, don’t wait – contact Spodek Law Group right away. Our nationwide team of federal criminal lawyers is available 24/7 to start building your defense.

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