The statute of limitations in a car accident claim is different in every state, so you should talk to a lawyer familiar with the laws in your area. The civil statute of limitations is a law that outlines how long you have to file a lawsuit against a negligent party. While this deadline depends on your state, it also depends on the details of your case, such as who caused your injuries.
Filing car accident lawsuits come with a complex legal process that most people may not know. While dealing with injuries after a car wreck, you may find yourself frustrated and confused trying to navigate it all. If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a car accident, you can consult a car accident lawyer about the statute of limitations in your state and learn more about your legal options.
You Must File Your Lawsuit Before the Statute of Limitations Runs Out
You must file your lawsuit against the responsible party before the statute of limitations expires. Once too much time has passed, you forfeit your legal right to sue, even if you have a strong case. As noted, the statute of limitations varies between states and depends on the identity of the at-fault party.
Many states set statutes of limitations for personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits from months to years. For example, South Carolina law establishes the statute of limitations for both at three years. This law means that you generally have three years from the date of the car accident to sue for personal injury and three years from the date your loved one passed away to sue for wrongful death.
Many states set different statutes of limitations when the responsible party is a municipality, such as a state, county, city, or town. For instance, South Carolina law generally provides two years to file a lawsuit against a municipality. A lawyer familiar with the details of your case and your state’s laws can help you meet important legal deadlines.
Some Exceptions May Change Your Car Accident Lawsuit’s Filing Deadline
The law understands that each car accident case comes with its own circumstances—some of which may extend their filing period. For instance, if you were involved in a hit-and-run collision, the state could pause the statute of limitations until law enforcement finds the other driver. You could also have more time to file your case if you suffered injuries as a minor.
This is yet another reason to consider consulting with a personal injury lawyer. As noted, they can evaluate your case, highlight any extenuating circumstances, and explain your filing deadline.
Many Lawyers Offer Free Case Evaluations for Car Accident Cases
Many personal injury lawyers offer free case consultations. These consultations give you a chance to meet a lawyer, tell them your story, and see if you feel comfortable working with them. You are under no obligation to go forward with any lawyer just because you met with them once.
This consultation also gives the lawyer an opportunity to evaluate your case. They can review when your collision happened, explain the statute of limitations for your car accident claim, and advise you on your legal options. They can also determine the strength of your case against the responsible party.
How Can a Lawyer Help With a Car Accident Claim?
A lawyer can help determine the statute of limitations for your car accident claim, but that’s not all they can do. A lawyer can investigate the accident and identify the party responsible for the accident, which may affect which statute of limitations applies to your case. A lawyer can also guide you through the claims process and help you sue the at-fault party, if necessary.
Investigate Your Car Accident
A lawyer can investigate your collision in addition to the investigations conducted by the local police and the insurance providers. The involved insurers will most likely investigate the accident, but not necessarily from your perspective. Their goal is to close the case quickly and cheaply. Your lawyer can investigate the collision from your point of view, looking for evidence of another party’s negligence.
A lawyer can come to the scene of the accident and gather evidence, such as traffic camera footage and security camera footage from nearby businesses. They can take pictures of the scene, interview eyewitnesses, collect police reports, and gather cell phone records and toxicology reports. With this evidence, they can determine whether another driver or the municipality responsible for the roadway caused your accident.
Identify the Responsible Party
Based on their investigation, a lawyer can determine who caused your accident. Identifying the responsible party is critical, because if another party caused the accident through their negligence, then they could be financially responsible for your losses. In many accidents, one driver is at fault, but other times, a municipality is responsible. The identity of the responsible party may also affect the statute of limitations in your case.
Drivers can cause accidents through negligence, such as disregarding current weather conditions, speeding, running stop signs or red lights, failing to yield, and tailgating. Municipalities can cause accidents by failing to properly maintain roads, designing poor intersections, and failing to remove brush, debris, or other hazards from the road. A lawyer can use evidence to figure out who caused your accident so you can pursue a lawsuit against them.
Estimate the Value of Your Losses
As you move forward with your car accident claim, you need to know how much your case is worth. If not, you might ask for or accept less than you truly deserve. Insurance companies are businesses, and their goal is to make a profit. They are known for offering lowball settlements to victims of car accidents.
A lawyer can use evidence, like your medical bills and records, tax records, past wage statements, vehicle repair or replacement bills, expert medical testimony, and more, to estimate how much you have lost. You can use this estimate to evaluate any settlement offers from the insurance company.
Help You With Insurance Company Matters
No one looks forward to filing an insurance claim. It usually involves a lot of time on the phone, being transferred from agent to agent, and repeating your story over and over again, followed by endless paperwork. You may get so frustrated that you want to give up. Yet, a lawyer can handle these tasks for you, reducing your stress and freeing up your time.
A lawyer can speak with the insurance representatives on your behalf and handle all the paperwork. They can obtain records from every medical provider who treated you after the accident, then file your case and submit all required supporting documents.
Negotiate an Out-of-Court Settlement
An out-of-court settlement may be the quickest and least stressful way to resolve your case. With a settlement, you agree to accept a financial payout in return for ceasing to pursue further damages. A settlement can help you avoid a long, drawn-out court case, getting the money you deserve now so you can move on with your life. A lawyer can advise you on the best path forward in resolving your case.
File a Lawsuit
A lawyer can help you pursue all possible avenues for compensation, including suing the at-fault party. A lawyer can file the lawsuit on your behalf before the statute of limitations runs out and represent you in court.
How Much Is a Car Accident Claim Worth?
Every car accident is different, and so is every car accident claim. The value of your case depends on many factors, such as the extent of your injuries, the cost of your medical care, the damage to your vehicle, and the effect the accident has had on your life. A lawyer can identify each of your losses and estimate their total value, which can help you seek the compensation you deserve.
If you were injured in a car accident, you could recover:
Economic damages comprise your financial injury-related losses.
A lawyer can gather evidence to recover damages for:
- Medical expenses for your treatment after the car accident, which may include ambulance bills, emergency room care, x-rays or other diagnostic imaging scans, follow-up appointments, surgeries, hospital stays, prescription medications, and rehabilitative therapies, such as speech, occupational, or physical therapy
- Future medical expenses for the treatment your doctors anticipate you will require, such as ongoing therapy, future surgeries, home health aides, and other procedures
- Home modifications if you need to change your house by widening hallways and entries, adding a ramp, installing an accessible bathroom, or making other modifications
- Medical equipment, such as braces, crutches, wheelchairs, motorized scooters, transfer lifts, hospital beds, and other equipment
- Loss of income if you have to take unpaid time off work while you recover
- Future loss of income if you cannot return to your previous position or continue to work at all because of your injuries
- Property damage costs if you had to repair or replace your car because of damage caused by the collision
Non-Economic Damages (Your Non-Financial Losses)
Non-economic damages compensate you for intangible losses, like your pain and suffering. While these losses don’t have inherent dollar values, a lawyer who has experience handling car accident claims like yours can calculate them.
You could seek non-economic damages if you experienced:
- Scarring or permanent disfigurement
- Permanent disability
- The loss of a limb or a body part
- Chronic pain
- A long recovery or multiple surgeries
- Emotional trauma
- The inability to participate in favorite hobbies or activities
- Reduced quality of life
Wrongful Death Damages in a Car Accident Case
If you lost a loved one in a car accident, you can claim damages for wrongful death. Wrongful death laws vary from state to state, and a local attorney can explain the laws in your state. These laws specify who can file a wrongful death claim and what types of damages they can recover.
For example, a state may say that the spouse and children of the deceased party can file a wrongful death claim. If there are no surviving spouses or children, then the parents of the deceased can file a claim, and if there are no surviving parents, then the heirs of the deceased may file one.
The damages available also vary between states but may include:
- Medical expenses for treatment the deceased received before he or she passed away
- Funeral and burial expenses for the decedent’s memorial service, flowers, transportation, embalming, coffin, cremation, urn, and other expenses
- Pain and suffering your loved one endured before he or she passed away
- Pain and suffering you and your family endured because of their death
- Loss of income for the wages, tips, salary, and benefits your loved one would have provided
- Loss of inheritance that any surviving children could reasonably expect to receive
- Loss of household support for the chores, home maintenance, and childcare your loved one would have provided
- Loss of relationship between two spouses
Can You Afford a Car Accident Lawyer?
Don’t might worry about hiring a lawyer after a car accident because of the expense. If you are out of work because of the accident and your medical bills keep rolling in, the last thing you want is another financial obligation. But because of the way most personal injury lawyers structure their payments, you should be able to afford a lawyer no matter what your financial situation is.
Most personal injury lawyers work on contingency, which means their payment is contingent upon winning your case. In other words, they only get paid if you win. The legal fees come directly from your verdict award or insurance settlement. You should not have to pay the lawyer out of pocket or upfront. Don’t let financial concerns keep you from seeking legal representation that can help you get the best possible outcome.