How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit When I Have Been in an Auto Accident?
Being in an auto accident can present a confusing set of issues for you to consider. You have to deal with the property damage to your car, the possible denial of liability by the other party, dealing with your insurance company over medical expenses, the time you are losing from your work, medical treatment, and the possibility of sustaining a permanent injury if the accident was serious.
You also want to consider filing a claim against the responsible party. This can be a drawn out process since there may be unresolved issues of liability and the eventual nature and extent of your injury, which may not be known for a year or more. You may also have to contend with the other party’s insurer who may offer a small settlement to you or who is reluctant to offer you any compensation at all.
The Statute of Limitations
Most civil claims must be filed in court within a certain time. In California, you have two years to file a lawsuit in the appropriate court if your claim is against a private party. If you were under 18 years of age when the accident occurred, you have two years after you turn 18 to file your suit.
For claims against a public agency, you have a much more limited time to start your claim. For example, you may have been injured by someone driving a vehicle owned by the state or county and who was engaged in their work at the time. In most cases, you must present a timely claim to the responsible department or agency within 6 months of your injury and your written claim must contain certain information. For cases against the state of California or a county, the state or subdivision has 45 days to accept or deny your claim. If rejected, you have 6 months to file in state court. If there is no response, you retain the two year statute for filing from the date of your injury.
Retain an Accident Attorney
In many cases, individuals try to settle their own injury claims without the benefit of legal counsel. Without knowing the process, they end up damaging their own claims by admitting to certain things, not obtaining prompt medical treatment, or by failing to adequately investigate the case and losing valuable evidence. Also, many individuals (also known as claimants) are unaware or ignore the statute of limitations, believing that by merely contacting the other party’s insurer, they have preserved their claim for damages. Others wait until the last possible moment to find an attorney or end up filing in the wrong court and being barred from pursuing any compensation.
Studies have consistently shown that injured parties who are represented by lawyers receive far more compensation for their claims than those who handle their own cases, even considering legal fees. The best possible thing you can do to protect your claim is immediately contacting a personal injury lawyer if you are injured in a car accident. Even when you feel that the accident was minor, getting advice costs you nothing and will result in you being able to make more informed decisions about how to proceed.