Old injuries have a way of nagging at you. You may notice that you suffer ongoing pain from those old injuries, or that you have trouble engaging in some of the activities that you once enjoyed with ease. If you find yourself struggling with the aftermath of an old injury, you may start wondering: can I sue for an old injury?
The Statute of Limitations
To file a claim for injuries sustained due to the negligence of another party, you will typically need to file a claim before the statute of limitations runs out. The statute of limitations varies by state and may look different depending on the type of injury you sustained, who caused the accident, and even who sustained those injuries. Several factors may impact how long you have to file an injury claim.
When did the incident occur?
Most obviously, the date of the incident typically determines how long you have to file a personal injury claim, though other factors may provide you with additional time.
In most states, you will have a specific number of years to file your injury claim. In California, for example, you usually have two years from the date of the injury to file an injury claim. Other states may offer a longer statute of limitations or may, in some cases, require you to file a claim faster.
When did you discover the injuries related to your accident?
Sometimes, you might not realize that you suffered injuries immediately after the accident. Suppose, for example, that you suffer a herniated disc in a car accident. You walked away from the scene of the accident with relatively little pain and did not pursue medical treatment, so you did not realize that you had suffered injuries.
Over time, however, the pressure from that herniated disc increased, and you began suffering considerable pain from your injuries, eventually requiring you to pursue medical treatment.
In some cases, discovering your injuries well after the accident that caused them may give you the right to file a personal injury claim based on when you realized that you had suffered those injuries, not when those injuries occurred. Talk to a lawyer about injuries you may have discovered well after the initial incident, particularly injuries that you might not have discovered until months or even years after the accident.
Who caused your injuries?
If you need to file an injury claim against the government, you may have a much more limited amount of time to file a claim. In many cases, you may need to start a claim against a government agency within six months of the initial incident.
Who suffered injuries?
Minors may have special protections when it comes to filing injury claims. Often, the statute of limitations will begin counting down for minors after their eighteenth birthday.
Suppose, for example, that a car hits a child getting off a school bus. The parents decide, for whatever reason, not to pursue an injury claim immediately. If the child decides to file an injury claim after his eighteenth birthday, the child will still have the right to file that claim, even though considerable time may have passed since the incident.
Do any outside factors give you the right to more time?
Sometimes, your personal circumstances may give you more time to move forward with an injury claim: for example, if you had to leave the state immediately after your accident or had to go to prison. Those events may “toll,” or pause, the statute of limitations, giving you more time to pull together your claim.
Why Do People Wait to File Injury Claims?
You may end up delaying your injury claim for any number of reasons.
You did not realize that you suffered injuries at the time of the accident.
Many types of injuries can masquerade as something else. Some types of broken bones, for example, may not cause the kind of immediate pain that many people expect after a serious injury, or the pain may fade quickly, leaving the patient with the assumption that they suffered other, less-severe injuries.
You may even have serious back or neck injuries that you do not notice at the time of the accident, but which cause more serious, ongoing pain some time after the initial accident.
If you do not realize that you suffered injuries immediately, you might not uncover those injuries until a later, routine medical exam. It can also prove much more difficult to establish where those injuries came from, especially if you did not pursue medical treatment at all at the time of the accident and have no idea what injuries you might have sustained.
You let too much time go by after the accident.
Serious injuries can leave you with a lot on your plate. You may have to worry about juggling appointments, struggling to keep up with work or keep in contact with your employer while dealing with the ramifications of your injury, and lower energy levels to take care of any of those tasks because of your injuries or your medications.
Time can, in many cases, slip by before you realize it. Suddenly, you realize that the statute of limitations has run out, or neared its end, and that you may no longer have the right to move forward with an injury claim.
You did not know you had the right to file a claim.
Sometimes, you might not realize that you have the right to file an injury claim immediately after the incident. You might not know that another party caused your accident, or that you have the right to file a claim because of the other party’s negligent contributions to your injuries. Later, you might discover that you have the right to file a claim, but that a great deal of time has passed since the incident, which may make it hard to have your claim heard.
What Should You Do About an Old Injury?
Whether you notice that an old injury has flared, reminding you that you could have filed a claim, or you discover evidence of an old injury that was not diagnosed after your accident, you may need to take specific steps to protect your right to compensation. Filing a claim after the statute of limitations has run out can prove incredibly difficult. Can you still move forward with a claim?
Step One: Talk to an attorney immediately.
If you let some time pass since the accident, do not wait to talk to an attorney. Call an attorney immediately to discuss your injuries and the accident that you believed caused those injuries. You can have a free consultation with most personal injury attorneys, during which you can get a better idea of whether you might still have grounds for a personal injury claim.
Often, an attorney can identify exceptions to the statute of limitations that may help extend the time you have to move forward with a claim—and allow you to file a claim even though some time has passed since the initial injury.
An attorney can also immediately move forward with your claim, filing the necessary paperwork to stop the clock on the statute of limitations and begin your claim.
Step Two: Secure your medical records.
Did you visit a doctor at the time of the accident? Your old medical records may contain more information than you think. For example, an x-ray might reveal a hairline crack that later turned into a much more serious fracture, or your doctor might have noticed swelling, but failed to diagnose a more serious injury due to a lack of symptoms or pain at the time of the incident.
You may also need to provide copies of your current medical records, which will show what limitations, challenges, and costs you have suffered because of your injuries.
Sometimes, if you discover an injury well after the initial incident, it may have started to cause more pain and may require medical attention. If you have suffered from the effects of the injury for years, but failed to seek compensation before this claim, you may need to show what long-term effects you have had because of the injury.
Step Three: Provide any evidence you have about the incident that caused your injuries.
Filing an injury claim for an old injury can prove much harder than filing a claim for a recent injury, in part because it can prove much more difficult to collect evidence related to the incident. For example, you may have a hard time showing exactly where the incident occurred, or proving that your injuries occurred at that specific time.
If you have clear records and evidence of the incident, it can prove much easier to file an injury claim against the party that caused your accident. Video evidence, photos, accident reports, and medical evidence can help make it easier to pull together a claim.
What Happens If I Discover New Injuries After Filing a Claim in the Past?
When you accept a settlement, or arrive at a court decision, regarding a personal injury claim, you will sign a contract that alleviates the liable party from further responsibility for any injuries sustained from that incident. If you discover further injuries related to the incident, or if you suffer more serious effects than anticipated from the incident, you may not pursue compensation for those losses and limitations.
For this reason, many lawyers recommend that you wait until several months after the incident to put together a demand package that showcases the extent of your financial losses related to the accident. Many injuries, including spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, and even broken bones, can have a dramatically different prognosis from one patient to the next, and doctors might not accurately predict how much you will eventually recover after that incident.
By waiting to file your injury claim, you can put yourself in a better position to include all associated injuries, limitations, and costs in your claim.
Will the Court Hear a Claim for an Old Injury?
Most of the time, the court will refuse to hear a claim for an old injury once the statute of limitations has passed, even if you have discovered new or worse symptoms. However, in some cases, including cases where new evidence comes to light that might show that another party bears liability for your injuries when previously, you thought that you alone bore liability for the incident, you may file an injury claim.
Any time you have questions about whether you might have the right to file an injury claim, talk to an attorney about your rights. An attorney can provide you with vital advice about your next steps and whether you have grounds for a claim for an injury suffered well in the past.
Contact an Attorney to Learn About Your Rights Regarding an Old Injury
If you have lingering trouble with an old injury and want to learn whether you may file a claim, an attorney can provide you with more information, including a look at how the statute of limitations might apply.
An attorney might find an exception to the statute of limitations to help you move forward with your claim even after considerable time has passed. Most lawyers will start with a free consultation, which means it will cost you nothing to get a better idea of the compensation you might deserve.