How Long After an Accident Can You Claim Injury?

After an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, whether you suffer injuries in a car accident, slip and fall, or a motorcycle accident, you may have the right to file a personal injury claim. However, the law does impose limits on how long after your accident you have to claim injury. You may have a limited amount of time to take action and move forward with your personal injury claim.

Life can get in the way after your accident. Your recovery often takes top priority, especially if you sustained severe injuries or must contend with numerous appointments and procedures as you recover. Sometimes, time can get away from you. Once some time has passed after your accident, you may wonder if you even still have the right to file a claim. Read on to learn more about how long you have to file a claim after your accident.

The Statute of Limitations and How It Affects Your Personal Injury Claim

Each state sets a statute of limitations for personal injury claims: a time after which the victim of an accident caused by someone else’s negligence no longer has the right to file a compensation claim. The purpose of the statute of limitations is to stop claims that might come up long after the initial incident, which may be very difficult or even impossible to prove.

Evidence is often time-sensitive. Security footage gets deleted over time. Witness memories fade. Memory distortion, which often occurs following a traumatic event, can make it very difficult for even the injured person to remember exactly what happened. The law recognizes this and assigns a specific time during which the injured party can file a personal injury claim related to their injuries from an accident.

Most states have a statute of limitations for personal injury claims of between two and three years, and most grant extensions in specific, limited circumstances. To know for certain what statute of limitations applies to you, contact a personal injury attorney who can go over your accident, your injuries, and your state’s laws to give you a better idea of how long you have to file a personal injury claim after your accident.

Potential Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

Every state identifies specific situations in which a court will extend (or sometimes shorten) the statute of limitations beyond the standard timeframe. Some of the common exemptions are discussed below.

1. A government entity caused the accident and injuries.

In some cases, a government entity may cause injuries. For example, a child suffered a serious injury at the park, or you slipped and fell in a government building due to a general lack of maintenance on the building, resulting in a serious injury like a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, or broken bones. While you may have grounds for a personal injury claim when a government entity causes your injuries, you usually have less time to file your personal injury claim and start to pursue the compensation you deserve. Some states limit personal injury claims against government entities to just six months after the initial accident.

2. A minor child suffered serious injuries due to another party’s negligence.

Children rely on adults to keep them safe. They are often impulsive and don’t always understand potential dangers, sometimes leading to serious injuries. Children’s injuries may also manifest and heal differently than adult injuries. Kids’ bones often heal faster than adult bones, and children may adapt more easily to the limitations associated with severe injuries like spinal cord injuries.

However, some injuries can cause long-term impacts on a child. Traumatic brain injuries, for example, may have lifelong impacts on a child. An injury near a growth plate can cause serious challenges as the child grows. A child’s doctor may not fully understand the repercussions of an injury until years down the road, when the injury’s impacts on a child’s growth and development eventually become clear.

Children also receive special protection under the law. The law recognizes that children may not understand the full extent of how an injury will impact them until years later. Children generally lack full knowledge of their legal rights—and parents may not always decide to move forward with a personal injury claim on the child’s behalf. In many states, children have an extended length of time to file a personal injury claim. Some states do not start counting down on the statute of limitations until the child turns eighteen. Other states give a child until their eighteenth birthday to file a claim.

3. You did not discover your injuries immediately after the accident (or until well after the fact).

Ideally, you should always pursue medical attention immediately after any accident that may have caused injuries. Some injuries, like traumatic brain injuries or internal injuries, may not be apparent immediately after the accident. In fact, you may display symptoms until well after the initial event. Other injuries, including back and neck injuries, may seem minor due to a lack of pain immediately after the incident, but later show their full severity.

If you did not know that you suffered injuries immediately after the accident but discovered weeks, months, or even years down the road that you suffered substantial injuries, you may have an extended time to file a personal injury claim. Talk to an attorney to learn more about how long you have to start the claim process if you discovered your injuries well after the initial accident.

4. You have a loved one who died eventually, but not immediately, of their injuries.

If a loved one died of injuries sustained due to someone else’s negligence, in most states, the statute of limitations starts counting upon their death, not on the day of the accident. An attorney can help you understand your family’s right to seek compensation from the at-fault party following your loved one’s death.

When You Should Move Forward with Your Claim

The statute of limitations serves as a deadline that helps to establish how long you have to file a claim. If you try to file a personal injury claim after the statute of limitations runs out, a court will likely refuse to hear your accident claim at all, preventing you from pursuing compensation for your injuries.

In most cases, you should file your claim well before the statute of limitations runs out.

When to Contact an Attorney

Ideally, you should get in touch with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon after your accident as possible. An attorney can start supporting you and preparing your claim immediately after the accident, even before you have a chance to consider the full repercussions of what the accident and your injuries will mean in your life.

An attorney can:

Give you a better idea of how to handle the insurance company. Did you know that an insurance adjuster may contact you and offer a settlement offer shortly after your accident? Many people, especially those who have dealt with insurance companies in the past, assume from the beginning that the insurance company will move slowly. While you should not necessarily expect a fast resolution to your claim, the insurance company may get in touch with you sooner than you think.

Often, the insurance company will issue a very low initial settlement offer in the hopes that you will take it fast, alleviating the company of future responsibility and allowing the company to close out the claim quickly.

A personal injury attorney, on the other hand, can go over the circumstances that led to your accident, the insurance policy that covers the liable party, and the injuries you sustained to give you a good idea of how much compensation you should expect. Then, you can determine how you should proceed, including when you may want to accept a settlement offer and when you should continue to negotiate.

Investigate the circumstances that led to your accident immediately, while the evidence remains fresh and accessible. The longer you wait to have an attorney start investigating your accident, the more evidence you may lose access to. Following serious injuries, the person or entity that caused those injuries may clean up the site to avoid future injuries. Witnesses may even start to forget the events that led to the accident or who bears liability for your injuries, especially if your accident was traumatic for witnesses as well as for you.

An attorney can capture relevant evidence immediately after your accident, when it may prove easier to collect that evidence and ensure that you have what you need to establish who caused your accident and your injuries.

Provide vital advice about how you should move forward following your injuries. Little things about how you handle the immediate aftermath of your accident can make a big difference as you move forward with your personal injury claim. If you make a statement to the insurance company, for example, the insurance company could try to twist your words to say that you are not as injured as you claim. The insurance company may also check out your social media posts, which can make it harder to collect the full compensation you deserve for your injuries. An attorney can provide important guidance and advice to prevent you from saying or doing something that inadvertently damages your claim.

When to File Your Claim

While you should contact an attorney as soon after your accident as possible, you may not necessarily want to file your personal injury claim immediately. Your attorney can provide advice about how long you need to wait to move forward with your personal injury claim.

A couple of factors may affect your overall timeline.

  • Your attorney may need time to investigate the claim. In some types of personal injury claims, such as a straightforward car accident in which one driver clearly committed an act of negligence, you may know exactly who caused the accident and, therefore, how to pursue compensation immediately after the accident. In other cases, however, your attorney may need time to investigate the circumstances that led to the accident before you move forward with your claim. Suppose, for example, that you suffered injuries in a truck accident. Your attorney may need to investigate the trucking company, the driver’s driving history, and maybe the company that loaded the truck to discover exactly who caused the accident, including whether multiple parties may have contributed to your injuries.
  • Your doctors may recommend taking time to heal from your injuries. Your recovery can have a huge impact on the compensation you ultimately receive for your accident. Sometimes, more complications arise than your doctors initially anticipated, which can mean you need additional compensation for your injuries. In other cases, your doctors may not know right away how much you will ultimately recover from your injuries and how those injuries will continue to impact you long-term. By waiting until you have a chance to heal somewhat before you move forward with your claim, you can get a better idea of how much compensation you ultimately deserve, including compensation that covers the long-term impact your injuries have on your life.

If you have specific questions about how long you have to file for compensation after a serious accident, an attorney can help guide you through the process and give you a better idea of your rights. Contact a personal injury attorney as soon after the accident as possible for a free consultation regarding your claim.

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