March 22, 2024

What Is the Statute of Limitations in a Car Accident Claim?

Statutes of Limitations: Legal action timeframes.

Every state has a statute of limitations that governs how long you have to file a car accident lawsuit in civil court. In California, the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims based on negligence is two years from the date of the accident. The same deadline applies to wrongful death lawsuits arising from car accidents in California.

If you fail to have an attorney file a lawsuit for you within the two-year statute of limitations, you risk losing your rights to pursue compensation for your injuries and losses.

However, certain exceptions may apply, and there are other factors to consider when seeking compensation from an at-fault party following a car accident. It’s important to understand all you can about statutes of limitations and other deadlines that may affect your case. Also, keep in mind that there’s a difference between a car accident claim and a car accident lawsuit.

For specific advice regarding your case, contact an experienced Ontario car accident attorney near you for a free consultation and advice regarding your rights and options for obtaining compensation.

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What’s the Difference Between a Car Accident Claim and a Car Accident Lawsuit?

Car accident claim and car accident lawsuit refer to different stages in the process of seeking compensation for injuries or damages resulting from a car accident.

Here’s a breakdown of the key differences between a car accident claim and a car accident lawsuit:

Car Accident Claim

  • A car accident claim is the initial process of seeking compensation through insurance. After a car accident, individuals typically file a claim with their own insurance company or the at-fault driver’s insurance company. 
  • The claim process involves notifying the insurance company of the accident, providing relevant details, and submitting supporting documentation such as medical bills, repair estimates, and other evidence of damages.
  • Insurance companies investigate the claim, assess liability, and negotiate a settlement amount. The goal is to reach a fair resolution without going to court.
  • Many car accident cases are resolved at the claim stage through negotiations, and a formal lawsuit may not be necessary.

Keep in mind that you stand a better chance of getting maximum compensation in a car accident claim if you work with an experienced car accident attorney.

A lawyer can gather evidence and file your claim for you within any deadlines the insurance company imposes. An attorney can also negotiate with the insurance company to get a fair settlement.

Car Accident Lawsuit

  • If the insurance claim process does not result in a satisfactory settlement or if there are disputes over liability or the extent of damages, individuals may choose to file a formal lawsuit.
  • A car accident lawsuit involves initiating legal action against the at-fault party or parties by filing a complaint in a court of law.
  • The lawsuit progresses through various stages, including discovery (evidence gathering), depositions, and possibly mediation or settlement negotiations.
  • If a settlement cannot be reached, the case proceeds to trial, where a judge or jury will determine the outcome and award damages if liability is established.

Having an attorney file a lawsuit for you and represent you in court proceedings is vital. The process requires considerable legal knowledge of courts and procedures as well as how to develop a compelling case and present it to a judge or jury.

Key Differences

  • Initiation: A claim is initiated by notifying the insurance company, while a lawsuit is initiated by filing a legal complaint in court.
  • Forum: Claims are typically handled outside of court through insurance companies, while lawsuits involve formal legal proceedings in a court of law.
  • Resolution: Claims often result in settlements negotiated between the parties, while lawsuits may be resolved through settlements, mediation, or a court trial.
  • Timeline: Claim resolutions can be quicker, while lawsuits may take longer due to the formal legal process and court schedules.

Ultimately, whether to pursue a car accident claim or file a lawsuit depends on the specific circumstances of the case, the extent of damages, and the effectiveness of negotiations with insurance companies. A personal injury attorney can advise you on the best course of action based on your situation.

Insurance Company Deadlines for Car Accident Claims

Innovative insurance company: Offering policies to the public with a futuristic touch. Lady in uniform virtually taps tablet for business overview.

Insurance companies often have specific deadlines for filing a personal injury claim, and these deadlines can vary based on the terms of the insurance policy and the type of claim.

California has set no statutory deadlines for filing a personal injury claim with an insurance company, but keep in mind:

  • Prompt Notification: It is generally advisable to report an accident and initiate the claims process as soon as possible after a car crash. Prompt notification allows the insurance company to conduct a timely investigation and assess the damages.
  • Contractual Policy Terms: Insurance policies have terms and conditions that policyholders must adhere to, including reporting requirements and timeframes for filing claims. It’s crucial to review the terms of the specific insurance policy to understand any deadlines imposed by the contract.
  • Notice of Claim: Some insurance policies may include provisions requiring the insured to provide the insurance company with notice of a claim within a certain period. This notice of claim is typically the first step in the claims process.
  • Cooperation Clause: Insurance policies often include a cooperation clause, which requires the policyholder to cooperate with the insurance company’s investigation. Failing to cooperate may affect the processing of the claim.
  • Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Claims: If you are making an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim against your own insurance policy, there may be specific deadlines outlined in the policy. These policies often require prompt notification and filing of the claim.

You must carefully review your insurance policy and contact the insurance company promptly following an accident. If you are uncertain about the deadlines or requirements, consult a personal injury attorney who handles car accident claims.

An attorney can guide you on how to navigate the insurance claims process and ensure that you comply with any applicable deadlines and requirements. 

Why Do States Have Statutes of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits? 

States have statutes of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, including those related to car accidents, for several reasons, including legal, practical, and policy considerations. Here are some key reasons why statutes of limitations exist:

Promoting Fairness and Justice 

Statutes of limitations are designed to ensure that legal actions are initiated within a reasonable time frame. This promotes fairness and justice by preventing individuals from facing legal claims for events that occurred many years in the past when evidence may be difficult to obtain, memories may have faded, and witnesses may no longer be available.

Preserving Evidence 

Over time, evidence relevant to a personal injury claim may deteriorate or become unavailable. By imposing a time limit on filing lawsuits, statutes of limitations encourage the prompt preservation and presentation of evidence, which enhances the accuracy and reliability of legal proceedings.

Time limits help maintain the efficiency of the legal system. They prevent an excessive backlog of old cases, allowing courts to prioritize recent and more timely matters. This contributes to the overall effectiveness and functionality of the justice system.

Statutes of limitations provide legal certainty to individuals and businesses by establishing a clear time frame within which potential claims must be brought. This predictability allows parties to plan and make informed decisions about legal risks.

Encouraging Prompt Resolution 

Knowing that there is a limited time to file a lawsuit encourages parties to address legal issues promptly. It can lead to earlier negotiations, settlements, or alternative dispute resolution methods, which may be more cost-effective and efficient than lengthy litigation.

Considering Witness and Party Recollection 

Memories fade over time, and witnesses may become more difficult to locate or recall the details of an event. Statutes of limitations recognize the challenges associated with stale claims and seek to resolve legal disputes while memories are relatively fresh.

Balancing the Interests of Parties 

Statutes of limitations strike a balance between the interests of plaintiffs seeking compensation for injuries and the interests of defendants in avoiding prolonged exposure to potential legal claims. This balance aims to achieve a fair and just resolution for all parties involved.

What Are Exceptions to California’s Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits? 

Lawyers discuss statute of limitations, offer legal advice in revenue office. Law office scene with judge and legal advisor present.

While California’s statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits is generally two years from the date of the injury, there are exceptions and circumstances that may extend or alter this time limit.

Some of the key exceptions to the statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits in California include:

  • Discovery Rule: The discovery rule applies when the injury is not immediately apparent. In such cases, the statute of limitations may start from the date the injury is discovered or should have been reasonably discovered.
  • Minor Plaintiffs: If the injured party was a minor (under the age of 18) at the time of the injury, the statute of limitations is tolled, meaning it does not start running until the individual turns 18. Minors generally have until their 20th birthday to file a personal injury lawsuit.
  • Mental Incapacity: If the injured party is mentally incapacitated at the time of the injury, the statute of limitations may be tolled until they regain mental capacity. The clock may start running once the person is deemed mentally competent.
  • Defendant’s Absence from the State: If the defendant responsible for the car accident is absent from the state during the period when the statute of limitations would normally run, the time the defendant is out of state may not be counted within the limitation period. The same holds true for defendants who are incarcerated during the limitation period.
  • Government Entities: When a personal injury claim involves a government entity or employee, specific rules and timelines apply. A government claim must typically be filed within six months of the incident, and if the claim is rejected, the injured party may have six months from the date of rejection to file a lawsuit.
  • Fraud or Concealment: If the defendant fraudulently conceals the cause of action, the statute of limitations may be extended. This exception applies when the injured party was prevented from discovering the injury or its cause due to intentional wrongdoing or fraud.

These exceptions are not exhaustive, and various factors may influence the application of the statute of limitations in specific cases. Speak with an experienced personal injury attorney in your area on how these exceptions may apply to your case and learn of any deadlines you must keep.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney in Ontario, California

D. Chante El-Alam, Car Accident Lawyer
D. Chante El-Alam, Ontario Car Accident Lawyer

If you suffered serious injuries or lost a loved one in a car accident in Ontario, California, that someone else caused, reach out to the Ontario personal injury attorneys at Banderas Law for help. We have more than 20 years of experience handling car accident claims and lawsuits, and we can review your case at no cost and advise you of your options.

You can count on us to file your claim or lawsuit within any prescribed deadlines and fight hard to help you recover the full amount of compensation you need. Contact us today for a free consultation.