Following a car accident, your right to claim injury can prove paramount. A personal injury claim can help you recover compensation for many of the financial challenges you may face after a car accident, including your medical bills and wages lost because you could not work after your accident. In addition, compensation for pain and suffering following your accident can make it easier for you to rebuild your life despite serious injuries.

However, if you do not file your claim fast enough, you may find yourself unable to recover compensation for your injuries at all. Once the statute of limitations expires, the court may refuse to hear your case at all.

How long after a car accident do you have to start moving forward with a personal injury claim

The Statute of Limitations

Each state has a statute of limitations for car accident claims: the length of time that the injured party has to file a claim against the party that caused the accident. As long as you start moving forward with your car accident claim, you can proceed to seek the compensation you need to cover the full cost of your injuries. On the other hand, if you wait until after the  statute of limitations expires to start moving forward with your car accident claim, you may find yourself unable to recover compensation.

In California, you have two years after the accident to claim compensation for your injuries. However, keep in mind that some exceptions exist to the statute of limitations that can extend the time you have to follow. Always talk to an attorney to learn more about your rights, including whether you still have grounds to file a claim even though the statute of limitations has expired.

You did not discover your injuries until some time after the car accident.

Most of the time, serious injuries make themselves known immediately, at the time of the accident. You might, for example, notice confusion and disorientation, or the telltale loss of consciousness, related to a traumatic brain injury, or you might have signs of broken bones. If you suffer from partial or full paralysis, you might suspect early on that you suffered a spinal cord injury.

However, not all injuries offer the same immediate symptoms. Sometimes, for example, you might write off the disorientation of a traumatic brain injury as a natural side effect of the adrenaline from the accident and choose to ignore it. Weeks or even months later, you might realize that you have suffered from memory problems or changes in behavior that relate to the accident.

Likewise, some people can break bones without realizing it. You may discover that you suffered broken bones in your car accident only weeks or months later. In some cases, you may not even notice those critical signs of injury for years.

If you do not discover your injuries for some time after your car accident, you may have up to one year after you discovered your injuries to file a personal injury claim.

You suffered serious injuries in a car accident before you turned eighteen.

Sometimes, parents will choose to file personal injury claims on behalf of their minor children, especially if their children suffer permanent, life-altering injuries that will require considerable medical care and attention. Other times, however, you might not have a parent or guardian who will manage your car accident claim for you.

If your car accident occurred before your 18th birthday, in California, the statute of limitations starts counting down when you turn eighteen. In essence, the statute of limitations gets tolled, or paused, until you reach adulthood and can make decisions for yourself regarding how you want to handle your claim.

When Should You Contact a Personal Injury Attorney?

While California law provides you with two years to start moving forward with a personal injury claim, that does not necessarily mean that you should wait until the statute of limitations nears before contacting a personal injury attorney. In fact, ideally, you should contact a car accident lawyer near you as soon after your accident as possible.

If you wait to file a car accident claim, you may find that you have considerably more trouble pursuing the compensation you really deserve for your injuries. On the other hand, if you contact a car accident lawyer soon after the accident, you can often streamline the process of filing for compensation and increase the odds that you will get compensation to cover the full cost of your injuries.

Evidence may disappear quickly after a car accident.

Evidence from a car accident does not just sit around for weeks, months, or even years. The city will clean up the site of the accident, and if your accident involved additional challenges—like poor visibility due to overgrown bushes, the city will likely take care of that problem as soon as possible to decrease the risk of further accidents. Vehicles get repaired, which can make it difficult for a lawyer to take a look at the damage in person or bring in an expert witness who can use that damage to better evaluate who caused your accident. Even video footage can prove more difficult to locate as time passes after an accident, and the odds increase that the owner of the footage will delete it without realizing its importance.

The longer you wait to contact a lawyer, the harder the lawyer may find it to collect the vital evidence related to your accident. Furthermore, much of that evidence may disappear altogether.

Witnesses may forget what happened.

Most people do not rehearse what they saw at the time of a car accident in their minds. They may remember it long enough to give a brief statement if contacted soon after the accident, but often, those memories fade with time. Traumatic events, including car accidents that resulted in severe injuries, can, in some cases, cause those memories to fade even faster.

If you do not contact witnesses and ask for their reports soon after the accident, you may have a harder time establishing the accuracy of those reports. Witnesses may also decline to give their statements as more time passes because they no longer feel comfortable with what they remember.

The insurance company may contact you before you have a chance to determine your rights after a car accident.

Often, insurance companies want to get out ahead of you: contacting you before you have a chance to talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can provide you with a solid look at how much compensation you should pursue following serious car accident injuries. The insurance company, on the other hand, might want you to accept a settlement offer soon after the accident.

That settlement offer may, unfortunately, not reflect the true value of your case. Unfortunately, if you accept it, you may prevent yourself from later pursuing additional compensation.

Furthermore, the insurance company may try to convince you to accept liability for the accident or to take on partial responsibility for what happened. If you accept liability, including partial liability, it could limit the compensation you can recover. A lawyer can help guide you through talking with the insurance company or dealing with other challenges the insurance company may offer, which can help increase your odds of recovering maximum compensation for your specific circumstances.

Should I Claim Injury Immediately After My Car Accident?

While you should certainly contact an attorney as soon after your car accident as possible, you may not want to file your car accident claim immediately. Talk to your lawyer about the timeline for filing a personal injury claim, including the timing that makes the most sense based on your specific injuries and the challenges you might face in recovery. Sometimes, a lawyer may recommend waiting before you actively move forward with your car accident claim.

You may need time to recover from your injuries.

Did you sustain severe injuries, from burns to traumatic brain injury, in your accident? If so, you may not know, immediately after your accident, what your long-term medical needs will look like or how much time you will need to recover from your injuries.

Some patients with traumatic brain injury, for example, might show improvement within weeks. Others may take months to get back to themselves. Even patients with minor traumatic brain injury may show symptoms that interfere with their daily lives more than a year after the initial accident. Your doctors may not have the ability to accurately predict your recovery, from how long it will take to how much you will regain, immediately after your accident.

The same holds for many other injuries. Burn victims, for example, may suffer complications in healing, including infection, that can substantially increase their overall healing time and lead to more severe scarring. Doctors may not predict a spinal cord injury victim’s recovery, including how much mobility the patient may ultimately regain, until six months or more after the initial accident.

Your car accident claim will rely on data from your recovery in two key ways. First, you will want to include your medical expenses as part of your car accident claim. Ideally, you want that claim to reflect your medical costs as accurately as possible so that you can maximize the compensation you can recover. Until you have moved through that part of your recovery, however, you may not know what it will look like.

Second, you may claim compensation for pain and suffering based on how much you can recover after your accident. Some victims may have considerably more severe limitations than others, even with the same types of injuries. You want your claim to accurately reflect your losses, which you may not fully quantify until some time after the accident.

Your lawyer may want time to investigate all the factors that led to your car accident.

Some car accidents may involve multiple factors and, as a result, multiple liable parties. When your lawyer can identify more than one party that bears liability for the accident and your injuries, he or she can help you file a claim against each party that shares liability, which may help increase the compensation you can recover as well as holding everyone who contributed to your accident liable for those actions.

However, it can take time to conduct a full investigation. Your attorney may need time to look into all the details of the accident, whether that means reading through a truck driver’s logbooks or investigating a vehicle manufacturer whose vehicles have seen a significant increase in accidents due to a specific type of mechanical failure.

What Happens if the Statute of Limitations Runs Out?

Generally, once the statute of limitations runs out, you no longer have the ability to move forward with a personal injury claim after a car accident. The insurance company that covers the liable driver may have a policy that the company will not even hear your claim in this situation. If you try to take your claim to court, the court may refuse to hear that claim at all. You may no longer have the right to pursue compensation for the injuries and financial losses you sustained in your car accident, even if the other driver’s insurance company would otherwise have paid out that compensation.

However, that does not mean that you should not try. Contact a lawyer to learn more about how you might avoid missing out on the compensation you deserve, including whether your specific case might include an exception to the statute of limitations.

Any time you suffer injuries in a car accident, contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Once you contact a lawyer, the firm can start working on your behalf, from gathering vital evidence to providing you with critical support as you move through the claim process. A lawyer can also help make sure you get your claim started before the statute of limitations runs out.