An accident can leave you with a lot on your plate. Not only do you have to worry about managing your recovery, including medical procedures and therapy, but you may also need to worry about communicating with your workplace, getting back to work, or, in the case of circumstances like a car accident, dealing with property repairs.
Time can get away from you quickly. Suddenly, you may realize that several months have passed since your accident, and you have not claimed compensation for your injuries.
How long after a car accident can you claim compensation for your injuries?
The Statute of Limitations and Its Impact on Injury Claims
To file a claim after a serious accident resulting in injury, you must file a claim before the statute of limitations runs out. The statute of limitations sets a specific timeline by which you must file an injury claim after an accident. The court will generally refuse to hear your claim if you do not file a claim before the statute of limitations.
In general, the California court system allows you to file a claim regarding your injuries two years after the date of an accident. If you do not move forward with your injury claim before that two-year mark, you may no longer have the ability to pursue compensation for your injuries.
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Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations
While state law provides just two years to file a claim for injuries suffered due to another party’s negligence, you may find some exceptions to the statute of limitations. Identifying an exception to the statute of limitations can allow you to file a claim even though more than two years may have passed since the incident.
You did not discover your injuries immediately after the accident.
In general, you should prioritize medical attention after any accident. A doctor can look over the injuries you may have sustained in the accident and ensure you receive any care you might need to maximize your odds of recovering fully. Furthermore, that visit to a medical care professional can provide essential evidence to establish what injuries you sustained and when those injuries occurred.
Sometimes, however, you might not get the medical care you need immediately after the accident.
Suppose, for example, you get into a car accident on your way to work. You need to get to work as soon as possible due to your other responsibilities and obligations, and you feel fine at the scene of the accident, so you do not seek medical care.
Later, you might discover that you sustained severe injuries, including a brain injury or broken bones. You might have considerable complications from those injuries, including the need for multiple procedures or surgeries to help treat those injuries since you did not get the full care you needed in the first place. As a result, you may need to pursue compensation for those rising medical costs.
Likewise, maybe you had a slip and fall accident while shopping at the grocery store. You know your ankle twisted in the accident, but you decided to walk it off. You might have felt embarrassed and not wanted to draw attention to yourself, or you might have assumed that the pain would resolve soon. Within a few days, you felt like you had returned to normal.
Later, you discovered considerable signs of ongoing problems, including pain in your ankle. After seeking treatment, you discovered that you had sustained more severe injuries than you originally thought. You may still have the right to pursue compensation for your injuries.
According to California law, you have the right to pursue compensation for your injuries up to a year after discovering the injury.
You discovered additional evidence regarding liability for the accident.
Sometimes, you may assume that you do not have the right to file an injury claim at the time of the accident. You might think that your negligence led to the incident or even assume these things just happen. Perhaps you even talked to a lawyer but found that you did not have adequate evidence to move forward with an injury claim. As a result, the statute of limitations ran out on your injury.
In some cases, however, additional evidence may later come to light that establishes that another party bears liability for your injuries and that, as a result, you may have the right to move forward with an injury claim. Suppose, for example, an investigation into a property uncovers the landlord’s negligence in maintaining that property or taking care of needed repairs. The landlord might have used shoddy materials during the construction process or tried to cover the reasons for the accident.
You assumed, at the time, that the accident “just happened,” but that investigation shows you that the landlord committed an act of negligence that resulted in those challenges. Talk to a lawyer about that newly uncovered evidence since you may have the right to file a claim.
You suffered injuries as a minor.
California law tolls, or delays, the statute of limitations in the case of injuries to a minor until the child’s eighteenth birthday. Before a child’s eighteenth birthday, they cannot file an injury claim for themselves. Instead, the child would have to rely on a parent to take care of that claim. Some parents, however, might choose not to put in the effort or pursue a claim for the child for another reason.
When the child who suffered the injury turns eighteen, on the other hand, they can decide for themselves whether they want to move forward with a claim. Since children may heal differently than adults, including, in some cases, healing more slowly or suffering lifelong complications from those injuries, the child might decide, after turning eighteen, that he needs the compensation from that claim, even if he avoided filing one in the past.
The statute of limitations for minors starts counting down after the child turns eighteen, so a minor involved in an accident would have two years after their eighteenth birthday to move forward with an injury claim.
Imagine, for example, that you suffered injuries when a driver hit you while playing on your bike. At 12, you might not have realized how much those injuries would impact you long-term. Your parents may have paid for your medical care but did not decide to pursue a claim against the driver that caused your accident. At 18, you may have a permanent limp or other limitations that impact the type of job you can pursue or the activities you can enjoy. As a result, you may decide to move forward with a claim on your own.
When Should You Start Your Injury Claim?
While you may have as much as two years to start your injury claim, or even longer if you identify an exception to the statute of limitations, do not wait until those limits approach before you move forward. In most cases, get in touch with an attorney and start moving forward with your claim soon after the accident.
Once a lawyer begins the claim process, it will toll, or pause, the statute of limitations. You will, therefore, have plenty of time to heal from your injuries or investigate the claim without worrying that you will miss that vital window.
Talking to a lawyer soon after your accident, and beginning your claim, can have several critical advantages.
Witness memory often fades quickly, especially following a traumatic incident.
Even watching someone else suffer serious injury can feel very traumatic to many people, including witnesses who might have seen your accident. Even if the witness did not feel traumatized by the incident, the witness might have a hard time remembering exactly what occurred during the accident. As time passes, memory often proves even more difficult to call up, and the witness might have difficulty laying out the things he noticed leading up to your accident.
When you start the claim process soon after the accident, on the other hand, you may feel much more confident in the witnesses’ testimony, and you may have more accurate information to put into your claim.
Your lawyer may have an easier time collecting evidence soon after the accident.
It does not take long for the evidence from a severe accident to disappear. If your accident occurred at a place of business, for example, the business might quickly clear away the aftermath of the accident and any evidence related to it. Sometimes, corporations or businesses might try to deliberately obscure evidence related to the accident to reduce future liability charges. In other cases, evidence might naturally disappear over time.
Video footage often gets deleted after a relatively short period. Actual evidence from the accident might disappear quickly, especially if the property owner deliberately cleans up the area.
The sooner a lawyer starts looking, the easier it can prove to collect that essential evidence.
A lawyer can start working on your behalf immediately after the accident.
Frequently, you will need a lawyer to start working on your behalf as soon after the accident as possible. You may find yourself facing several potential difficulties during the claim process. Sometimes, especially in cases where the liable party accepts liability for the accident, you may hear from the insurance company very soon after the accident.
The insurance company may even make what seems like a decent settlement offer shortly after the accident. As your medical bills keep piling up and your other expenses continue, you may like the idea of accepting a fast settlement offer, making it easier for you to pay those immediate bills.
That offer, however, may not reflect the compensation you deserve.
The insurance company may also try to talk you into accepting at least partial liability for the accident. For example, the insurance company might try to trick you into saying that you contributed to the accident or brushing off the contributions of the party covered by the insurance company. As a result, you might not recover the compensation you deserve after your accident.
By working with a lawyer soon after your accident, on the other hand, you may feel much more confident about overall outcomes. A lawyer can fight to get the compensation you deserve, provide you with more insight into how much compensation you should reasonably expect, and support you as you progress with your claim, including interacting with the insurance company on your behalf.
Should I Contact a Lawyer After the Statute of Limitations Has Passed?
If you have allowed the statute of limitations to pass since your accident, you may feel unsure about your next steps. Can you still file a claim? Start by conversing with a lawyer about your losses and the compensation you might expect. In many cases, a lawyer can identify exceptions to the statute of limitations that may allow you to proceed with your claim.
Contact an Attorney for Help With Your Injury Claim
Regardless of when your injury occurred, get in touch with a lawyer as soon after the accident as possible. A lawyer can pursue compensation for your injuries, determine how long you have to file an injury claim before the statute of limitations runs, and identify exceptions to the statute of limitations that could allow you to move forward with a claim.