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

December 25, 2023 | Jarrett Blakeley
What Is the Statute of Limitations in a Car Accident Claim?

After a car accident, you might think about getting money for your injuries and losses, but you can't wait forever to start this process. A law in each state called the statute of limitations sets a deadline for when you can file a lawsuit.

For guidance in Fort Lauderdale, consult a skilled Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Attorney to ensure you meet deadlines and navigate the legal complexities.

How the Statute of Limitations Affects Your Car Accident Claim?

The statute of limitations sets a deadline for you to take action. This time limit differs in each state. For car accidents, it usually ranges from one to six years, but most often, it's around two or three years.

If you miss this deadline, you lose your chance to sue, even if you have a strong case or have been in negotiations with an insurance company. The court won't consider your case if you file it late.

Why Does the Statute of Limitations Exist?

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When you're thinking about seeking compensation after a car accident, understanding why there's a time limit to file a lawsuit is crucial. This rule might seem like it's just adding pressure, but it actually plays a significant role in the legal process.

The primary reason for the statute of limitations is fairness. Over time, it becomes more difficult to find clear evidence and reliable witnesses. Evidence that's crucial for proving what happened in an accident, like skid marks on the road or damage to vehicles, can disappear.

Similarly, witnesses who saw the accident might move away, forget details, or become unreachable as time passes. If too much time goes by, it can become almost impossible to piece together the true story of what happened.

Also, memories are not always reliable and can change over time. People might not remember the exact details of the accident, or other factors can influence their memories, making it hard to figure out the facts of the case accurately.

By encouraging people to file their lawsuits within a certain timeframe, the statute of limitations helps ensure that claims have the best possible evidence.

Another reason for the statute of limitations is to provide closure and certainty. Without a time limit, the possibility of a lawsuit can hang over the involved parties indefinitely, leading to ongoing stress and uncertainty for everyone involved.

By giving a clear deadline, the law encourages people to address and resolve disputes within a reasonable time after the event.

The statute of limitations also protects the legal system from being clogged with old cases.

If people can bring lawsuits for events that happened many years ago, courts can become overwhelmed with cases, slowing down the process for everyone. This time limit helps keep the legal system more efficient by dealing with cases that are still relatively fresh.

The statute of limitations also encourages people to promptly take responsibility for their actions. It acts as a motivation for people to seek justice sooner rather than later. This prompt action can lead to quicker resolutions and settlements, benefiting both the victim and the person responsible.

The statute of limitations exists to ensure fairness, preserve the quality of evidence, provide closure to those involved, maintain the efficiency of the legal system, and encourage timely action.

By understanding this concept, you can better understand your rights and responsibilities following a car accident, ensuring that you take the necessary steps within the appropriate time frame. Remember, each situation differs, and consulting a lawyer can provide guidance tailored to your specific circumstances.

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

While the statute of limitations sets a clear deadline for filing a lawsuit after a car accident, there are certain situations where you can extend the deadline. These exceptions can affect your ability to seek compensation even after the standard time limit passes.

Exception for Minors

One key exception to the statute of limitations involves minors, which means children under 18. In most cases, if a child suffers an injury in a car accident, the countdown for the statute of limitations doesn't start right away. Instead, it begins when the child turns 18. This exception occurs because minors cannot legally file a lawsuit on their own.

For example, suppose a 15-year-old suffers an injury in a car accident. In that case, they typically have until they turn 18, plus the standard statute of limitations period in their state, to file a lawsuit. So, if their state has a three-year statute of limitations, they will have until they are 21 to take legal action.

The Discovery Rule

Another important exception is known as the discovery rule. This rule applies when the injured person didn't realize they sustained an injury right away or didn't know that another person's actions might have caused their damage.

You might not realize immediately that someone else's negligence caused your injuries. You may discover later that the other driver had a faulty brake system that led to the accident. The discovery rule allows the statute of limitations to begin when you discover these crucial details.

When the Responsible Party Leaves the State

In some instances, if the person responsible for the accident moves out of the state, it can affect the statute of limitations.

In many states, if the at-fault driver leaves the state after the accident, the clock on the statute of limitations may stop ticking until they return. This time adjustment happens because it's often impossible to sue someone in a different state for a local accident.

For example, if you're involved in an accident, and the other driver moves to another state right after, the time they are out of state may not count toward the statute of limitations, meaning you can potentially have more time to file a car accident lawsuit.

Finding Out the Statute of Limitations in Your State

When determining time limits for a lawsuit, you might think you should research on your own. You might assume you can simply look up your state's laws online, where you'll find legal resources or government websites that list these time limits in clear terms.

However, many online sources might not consider your specific circumstances. Further, if certain states have changed their time limits in recent months or years, blogs or other sources might not reflect this and might provide inaccurate information.

Further, legal terms and laws are hard to understand, and talking to a lawyer can be helpful. A lawyer can explain the statute of limitations in your state in a way that's easy to understand. They know the laws inside out and can tell you exactly how long you have to file a lawsuit after a car accident.

A lawyer can also advise if exceptions apply to your case.

Insurance companies might drag out negotiations, and if you don’t know the deadline, you can miss your chance to sue if you can't settle. This is why you need a lawyer who knows the deadline.

Get this information early on when considering legal action after a car accident. Waiting too long can mean missing your opportunity to file a lawsuit. By understanding the statute of limitations in your state, you can take action in time and protect your rights.

Taking Action Before Time Runs Out

Understanding the statute of limitations for car accident claims highlights the importance of acting quickly. You might need to deal with injuries, repair your car, and talk to insurance companies.

With all this happening, you can run out of time and miss your chance to take legal action.

First, get medical attention for any injuries. But once you take care of immediate health concerns, talk to a lawyer sooner rather than later. A lawyer can explain what steps you need to take and how much time you have to take them. They can review the specifics of your case and advise you on the best course of action. For example, they can tell you if it's better to keep negotiating with the insurance company or if it's time to consider a lawsuit.

A lawyer can gather and preserve necessary evidence for your case, including photos from the accident scene, medical records showing your injuries, and any reports from the police. You want a car accident lawyer to collect it while the details are still fresh.

Another reason to act quickly is that negotiations with insurance companies can take time. Sometimes, insurance companies may offer a settlement, but it might not cover all your costs. If you're running out of time according to the statute of limitations, you might need to file a lawsuit to ensure you don't lose your right to seek further compensation.

Preparing a lawsuit can take time. Your lawyer will need time to assemble your case, which includes gathering evidence, talking to witnesses, and preparing legal documents. If you wait until the last minute, you may run out of time to build a strong case.

Never Wait to Consult a Car Accident Lawyer

The statute of limitations is a huge part of any car accident claim. It sets a deadline for when you can take legal action to get money for your injuries or damages. This time limit varies by state, but it's usually between one and six years. There are exceptions, but they're not common.

If you're considering a lawsuit after a car accident, learn the time limit in your state and take action before it's too late. An experienced personal injury lawyer in Fort Lauderdale can explain the statute of limitations and what it means in your specific situation.

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Jarrett Blakeley

Firm founder Jarrett Blakeley fights to get maximum compensation for all of Blakeley Law Firm’s clients. He has been practicing law since 2006 and takes great pride in representing the rights of injured individuals against the insurance companies and the law firms that represent them. He has successfully represented thousands of clients and recovered tens of millions of dollars on their behalf. Mr. Blakeley strives to give all of his clients personal attention and maximum effort and seeks to instill a firm culture that prioritizes customer service and compassion for the injured over all else. Fighting for the injured is Jarrett Blakeley’s greatest passion and he looks forward to fighting for the injured for the rest of his career.

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