A Comprehensive Guide to How Long You Can Sue After an Accident

Car accidents are a common cause of injuries and fatalities in the US. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates 62 million medically consulted injuries and more than 220,000 preventable deaths in 2021. In the motor vehicle sector, the NSC recorded 5.4 million injuries and 46,980 fatalities, an 11 percent increase from 2020.

Recent news of a collision in New Castle, New York, reports the devastating effects of car accidents. Four people were injured after a minor without a license drove a sedan, resulting in a collision with a school bus. The people in the car sustained life-threatening injuries. 

Besides physical injuries, accidents can have short and long-term effects, including emotional trauma and financial difficulties. Fortunately, you can protect yourself by seeking legal support. Moreover, you can demand compensation if you suffered injuries due to another’s fault. 

But you need to act quickly since there are time limits for filing a personal injury case. Contact a lawyer immediately to prevent your claim from being time-barred.

Key Takeaways
  • The average statute of limitations for personal injury cases ranges from two to three years.
  • The exceptions to the statute of limitations include the Discovery of Harm Rule, the state of injured parties, and government claims.
  • Personal injury cases include road accidents, product liability, slip and fall incidents, medical malpractice, and wrongful death.

Statute of Limitations in Personal Injury Cases

The statute of limitations started in early Roman law and served to bar claims after a prescribed period. As a result, courts will not entertain cases initiated after the time limit has passed. Hence, the injured party must file a claim within the time provided in relevant statutes or common law.

Most states allow a plaintiff to file a claim within two to three years after the accident. Section 6-2-38 of the Alabama Code and Section 614.1(2) of the Iowa Code mandates plaintiffs to institute a claim within two years. In contrast, Chapter 260, Section 2A of the Massachusetts General Laws and Section 214 of the New York Civil Practice Laws and Rules requires injured parties to file a case within three years.

Other statutes of limitations range from one to five years. In Louisiana, personal injury cases have a prescription of one year. In contrast, Section 95.11 of the Florida Statutes provides a four-year time limit. Section 516.120 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri states a five-year prescription. Lastly, North Dakota citizens have six years to file personal injury claims.

If you sustained injuries after a traffic collision, seek the expertise of a car accident attorney. They are familiar with the statute of limitations applicable in your state and can help you file your claim on time.

Purpose of the Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations seeks to promote a fair and efficient legal system. It provides the plaintiff with a reasonable time limit to bring claims against the defendants. Likewise, it prevents the defendant from losing relevant evidence to disprove the plaintiffs’ claims. 

For example, a defendant in a car crash may need testimonies to prove that they did not act negligently. Suppose the plaintiff only instituted the claim 10 years after the auto accident. The witnesses for the defendant may not clearly remember what happened before and during the collision. As a result, it negatively affects the defendants’ claims and prevents them from protecting their rights.

Moreover, the statute of limitations prevents the filing of claims for harassment purposes. For example, a plaintiff who wants to file a car accident lawsuit must do so diligently. They must initiate the case sooner rather than later. 

Their promptness shows their intention to recover compensation for property damage or injuries. Likewise, it’s expected that a person with a valid claim would file a case immediately after the collision rather than waiting 10 years later. 

The statute of limitations aims to resolve cases promptly. Conversely, allowing the filing of car accident cases at any time would cause the courts to experience backlogs, leading to delayed justice. As a result, both parties will suffer harm. 

Exceptions to Statute of Limitations

The exceptions to the prescribed time limit include the following:

  • Discovery of Harm Rule
  • Status of the injured party
  • Government claims

These exceptions may either extend or shorten the time for filing. 

The Discovery of Harm Rule extends the time of instituting the claim. It applies when the injured person is unaware of their injury or that the defendant may have caused it.

For example, a person was involved in a car accident in February 2020. After undergoing tests, the doctor did not find any serious injuries. Two years later, on February 2022, the victim experienced symptoms of brain injuries. In this case, the statute of limitations may start on the day of discovery, February 2022, not February 2020.

The court may also extend the statute of limitations depending on the plaintiff’s status. Article 3492 of the Louisiana Civil Code states that the prescription does not run against minors or individuals with permanent disabilities.

Moreover, the statute of limitations may not apply to mentally ill and insane persons. It may not also run if the defendant leaves the state since the court cannot serve the summons on the defendant. Similarly, the latter cannot answer the plaintiff’s accusations.

In contrast, claims against the government have a shortened statute of limitations. For instance, individuals must file a lawsuit against the state of California within six months. The government has 45 days to respond. If your claim was rejected, you have six months from the date of mailing to institute a personal injury claim.

Applicability to Insurance Claims

The claimant must observe a specific time limit in filing car accident claims. The deadline depends on the state where the accident occurred. However, you must promptly inform the insurance company about the details, including the date of the accident. Failure to contact the company may negatively affect your claim.

After informing the insurer, review your insurance policy to manage your expectations. Check your insurance coverage to know the maximum amount you can receive from the insurer. Moreover, be prepared to work with insurance adjusters since they will investigate your claim. 

The process will vary, depending if your state follows the no-fault or at-fault insurance system. In no-fault states, your insurer will pay for your losses. In contrast, tort or at-fault states require the injured party to demand compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurer. 

Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit

The stages of a personal injury case include filing a complaint, joining an alternative dispute resolution, going to trial, and recovering damages.

File a complaint

A civil case starts with filing a complaint against the alleged at-fault party. The complaint must include the court’s jurisdiction, cause of action, and requested damages. Car accident victims may raise negligence or product liability as causes of action.

In relation to a traffic collision, the elements of negligence include:

  • The at-fault driver’s duty to the plaintiff;
  • The at-fault driver’s breach of such obligation;
  • The plaintiff’s injury; and
  • The violation of duty caused the injury.

In contrast, if you invoke product liability in a car accident case, you must prove the following elements:

  • The company sells an auto part that the motorist uses;
  • The company is the commercial seller of the item;
  • The motorist suffered injury;
  • The company sold an already defective product; and
  • The defects caused the motorist’s injury.

Join an alternative dispute resolution

Parties can enter an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to resolve disputes without resorting to litigation. The types of ADR include mediation and settlement conferences. In mediation, the mediator talks to each party separately and helps them find mutually acceptable solutions.

In contrast, settlement conferences involve negotiations between the parties and their counsels in a business-like manner. Before the meeting, the parties’ lawyers must summarize the case. During the negotiation phase, the initial settlement offer may change, allowing the injured party to receive a fair amount.

Suppose parties do not reach a settlement in an ADR. They may opt to go to trial. 

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Go to trial

During the trial, the court or jury weighs the parties’ claims after the presentation of evidence. Only one witness may be permitted inside the courtroom to prevent them from changing their story based on the answers of other witnesses. The clerk of court handles the evidence for safekeeping.

Your attorney will provide you with legal representation throughout the process. They will give an opening statement to introduce the issues, facts, and reliefs prayed for by the plaintiff. Moreover, they will cross-examine the defendant’s witness to uncover inconsistencies in their statements, which may work in your favor. They will also argue with the other party’s counsel to represent your claims.

Recover damages

Plaintiffs in a personal injury case may receive economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include payment for medical expenses, repair costs, and lost wages. The compensation may depend on the severity of injuries and the kind of medical treatment received. In contrast, non-economic damages involve pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and inconvenience.

Certain legal principles may affect the compensation you may receive. For example, if your state follows the comparative negligence doctrine, the court may reduce the recovery amount depending on your degree of negligence. But if your state operates under the contributory negligence principle, you may not receive damages if you acted negligently, no matter the degree.

Types of Personal Injury Cases

Common cases under personal injury law include motor vehicle accidents, product liability, slip and fall incidents, medical malpractice, and wrongful death.

Motor vehicle accidents

According to the 2020 Fatality Facts, 35,766 deadly crashes happened in the US. The usual types of road accidents include the following:

  • Head-on
  • Rear-end
  • T-bone
  • Rollover

In a head-on collision, two vehicles traveling in opposite directions collide. It can happen when one driver travels the wrong way. In contrast, a rear-end crash occurs when a vehicle hits the car in front. Some rear-end accidents happen because the trailing driver fails to leave enough following distance.

Side-impact or T-bone accidents happen when one vehicle hits the side of another. Failure to yield may cause T-bone crashes. Lastly, a rollover causes a vehicle to lose balance when it hits something.

Product liability

Product liability allows consumers to hold negligent manufacturers accountable for their actions. For example, women who experienced copper toxicity due to a defective IUD may file a claim to request compensation for medical bills. Copper toxicity may cause hyperthyroidism, liver complications, and a weakened immune system.

Juul Labs, Inc. also faced lawsuits involving its vaping devices. In April 2023, it entered a $7.9 million settlement with West Virginia. The complaint alleged that the manufacturer used deceptive marketing to entice the youth. Moreover, it misrepresented the nicotine strength of its products, harming the consumers.

Slip and fall accidents

The following are the elements of slip and fall accidents in relation to negligence:

  • The property owner has a duty to ensure visitor’s safety;
  • The owner breached their duty by failing to maintain the property;
  • The owner knew the area’s potential for danger; and
  • The victims suffered damages.

Slip and fall incidents may happen due to unstable surfaces, such as loose floorboards, poorly constructed staircases, and parking lot potholes. Lack or improper training may also lead to such accidents when the employer does not train the workers to use the equipment properly. Moreover, weather conditions may lead to slippery and dangerous surfaces.

Medical malpractice

Medical malpractice usually includes misdiagnosis, surgical errors, birth injuries, and anesthesia errors. Your personal injury attorney must prove the following elements in a medical malpractice case:

  • The professional duty to the patient;
  • The violation of such duty;
  • The breach caused the plaintiff’s injury; and
  • The plaintiff suffered damages.

Wrongful death

A wrongful death action allows recovery of damages from someone who negligently caused the death of another. In a wrongful death claim, persons with legal standing vary per state. In general, the personal representative or family members of the deceased can file the case. They may seek different damages like economic, non-economic, and punitive.

Did you know?

The damages awarded by a jury for personal injury cases in 2020 ranged from $840 to $373,763,109. The amount included awards for product liability, medical malpractice, and premises liability.

Hire a Personal Injury Attorney To Timely File Your Case

Contact an attorney immediately after an accident. They can explain your rights and legal options. More importantly, they can help you initiate a claim within the statute of limitations. 

The statute of limitations provides the time limit for filing a claim. After it has passed, you may lose your legal right to seek compensation for injuries resulting from the accident. Hence, hiring a reputable law office with experienced lawyers is advisable.

Visit The Personal Injury Center to find a lawyer who can represent your claim. We provide a free case evaluation to match you with attorneys nearby.

Accidents can leave victims with injuries, damaged property, and financial problems. Tell us about your case, and we will find an expert personal injury lawyer who can help you.

FAQs on How Long After an Accident You Can Sue or Statute of Limitations

Chapter 213 of the US Code provides different time limits for filing criminal cases. For instance, victims of crimes punishable by capital offenses may initiate a criminal case at any time. In contrast, the court only allows a five-year limit for non-capital crimes.

Most states, like Alaska and South Dakota, allow a limit of three to six years. However, other states follow up to a 10-year limitation.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the general time limit for assessing tax liabilities is three years after the return is filed.