Accident victims often have questions about how long they must file an injury claim. While it may be possible to sue for an old injury, you must first determine whether the injury directly resulted from the previous accident or if a new accident exacerbated it. While this may seem unusual, we can explain what this means. Remember this: Immediate medical attention and a call to a personal injury lawyer immediately following any accident can help protect your legal rights.
Injury Which Remains Undetected
If you have been involved in an accident of any kind and you seek medical attention following the accident, it may still be possible that an injury is overlooked.
For example, assume you were involved in a car accident that was not your fault. You go to the emergency room. The attending physician performs a few routine tests in the emergency room, determines you have a couple of strained muscles and abrasions, and discharges you from their care. They note on your chart that you had strained muscles in your lower leg and bruises on your head from the crash.
You return to work immediately and file a simple claim to collect damage for your vehicle repairs. You have no out-of-pocket medical expenses as a result of the accident. Three months later, you start experiencing uncontrollable headaches, which only appear to worsen.
You contact your physician and make an appointment. They run some tests and find you have a head injury that seems to be causing the headache. Your doctor begins questioning you about when you injured your head. The last time you hit your head was during the accident, which was the last time you were in the emergency room.
In this case, you can file a claim within two years of the date you learned you were injured versus two years from the original accident. This is important because there are injuries that may not manifest immediately following an accident. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to seek medical care immediately after an accident.
In this case, had you not gone to the emergency room, then you would have no record of having been seen, and more importantly, there would be no record that you had suffered a head contusion or abrasion.
Old Injury Exacerbated by a Slip and Fall Accident
When you file a claim with an insurer, they may request copies of your medical records, which they are entitled to do. If an attorney does not review the form first, you could turn over medical records that you never intended to share. This could happen when you have yet to hire an attorney. As a result, the insurer may claim the injury you suffered in a slip and fall was from a prior injury.
Say you suffered a back injury in high school due to falling off a skateboard. While the back injury has intermittently flared up and caused you some back pain, it has never been debilitating. However, the pain in your back will not go away after a slip and fall accident.
In this case, you may have an old injury aggravated by the new accident caused by someone else’s negligent conduct. Therefore, while the injury is old, the reason for your new pain is the recent injury due to the slip and fall accident.
The liability for treating your injury may still fall to the property owner, who should have ensured their property was safe for you and other visitors. To protect your legal rights in the event of a slip and fall accident, you should contact an attorney with the knowledge and experience to handle these complicated situations.
Unsafe Products Liability and Time Limits
Products that we use daily or medications our doctors prescribe to us are supposed to be safe. Unfortunately, all too often, this is not the case. Despite the best efforts of government agencies to ensure that the tests are performed on products that we depend on, sometimes the data is manipulated to make something look safe for the consumer.
In the case of prescription drugs or medical devices, the manufacturer may have failed to post the proper precautions or warnings on drug labels. Household appliances may have faulty manufacturing processes or designs which make them appliance dangerous for everyday use.
In other cases, a manufacturing flaw caused the injury. Any of these can result in an injury that may be noticeable immediately. Particularly in the case of a prescription or over-the-counter drug, the impact of the drug may not be known for a long period.
In many cases, it may be possible to hold the manufacturer or distributor of the product accountable for an injury or illness you are facing because of the defect in their product. These cases are often challenging to prove, especially when someone has been battling an illness for an extended period that goes unnoticed. This does not mean that the manufacturer or other party is not liable for your pain and suffering or the costs you incurred resulting from the defective product.
Too often, consumers are misled about how safe a drug is to take over the long term. In other cases, someone may be exposed to a chemical on the job that ultimately turns out to have caused severe, long-term health issues. Just because you have been using or been exposed to a product for longer than the statute of limitations covers, does not mean you have lost your right to hold the negligent party accountable for the loss you suffer because of that product.
However, some circumstances could extend that time, including:
- Victim’s age – If the victim was under 18, the statute of limitations may be extended until the date the victim turns legal age. This does not pertain to certain types of personal injury, including medical malpractice.
- Discovery of injury – If you have been involved in an accident caused by someone else and are not immediately aware of specific injuries, you may have an additional year from when you learned of the injury. Keep in mind that this is a bit unusual since you should always seek medical care immediately following most types of accidents.
- Felonious assault – If you were the victim of a crime involving assault or assault and battery, which was categorized as a felony, you may have the option of waiting until the person who is held legally responsible for your injury is released from their jail time before filing a claim against them. To ensure your legal rights are preserved, you should discuss your options with an experienced personal injury attorney.
It is important to understand why statutes of limitations exist. When developing a personal injury case, it is important to gather witness statements and evidence and, in some cases, reconstruct the accident. Over time, evidence may be lost, witness recollections may fade, and it may become impossible to reconstruct an accident depending on the situation. Additionally, there is some deference to the person who caused your injury. They should not have to live the rest of their lives wondering if they will face a lawsuit.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Explain Your Legal Rights
A personal injury victim will face challenges with filing a claim because of:
- Who was at fault for their injury – This may not always be immediately clear. While in some cases, such as being struck by a drunk driver, not every injury or accident is as clear. In some cases, a government entity may be partially responsible for your injury, which could complicate your claim and mean you have less time to file.
- The severity of the injury suffered – Victims often feel if their injury was minor, they have no right to file a claim against the party who was responsible. This is not the case. If you suffered any out-of-pocket losses because of an injury, you could file a claim for these losses.
- When the responsible party is also injured – When you are in a car accident, the responsible party may also suffer an injury. This means they may be in the hospital in serious condition or lose their life due to their injury.
In each of these cases, an experienced personal injury lawyer can be helpful to a victim. Most people do not know their legal rights when they suffer an injury. Insurance company adjusters will not be especially helpful because they have no responsibility to advise you of your rights.
Potential Compensation For an Old Injury
There is never a guarantee that an attorney will be able to help you secure a settlement for your injury. However, a skilled attorney can seek certain areas of compensation on your behalf.
Some of them include:
- Current and future medical expenses – Not only may you recover out-of-pocket medical expenses, but you may also be able to recover expenses associated with traveling back and forth to medical appointments.
- Current and future wages – If you are currently unable to work due to an injury caused by the negligence of another person, you may be able to recover your lost wages. If you are going to be out of work permanently, an attorney can help identify an expert who can determine what you will lose in future wages and benefits.
- Pain and suffering – In certain instances, an attorney may be able to help you secure money for the pain and suffering you endured as a result of your injury.
No hard and fast rule determines the value of the claim you may file against a person or entity who caused your injury. However, if you contact an attorney who has experience with personal injury claims, they will know how to proceed.
Personal Injury Claims Are Complex
No matter what anyone tells you, personal injury claims are complicated. Understanding the laws and statutes which apply in every case can be difficult. When someone suffers an injury, they often have a lot of questions. Getting answers can be complicated because no two cases are the same. Every person’s story is different; every accident and every injury is different.
Personal injury claims can be complicated when multiple people are liable for someone’s injury, when there is a question as to when the injury actually occurred, and when there are questions about how the law would apply to a specific case. The only way to get the correct answers is to ask someone with experience.
The two most important things you can do to protect yourself legally are to seek medical attention immediately following an accident and seek legal advice. Then you will fully understand your legal rights and the options you may have to hold the responsible party accountable for your losses.