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I was in a traffic accident. How long do I have to file a personal injury lawsuit?

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Q:

I was in a traffic accident. How long do I have to file a personal injury lawsuit?

A:

Time limits vary across the nation for individuals who are injured in an automobile accident, especially for personal injury actions. However, even if the coverage for physical property damage may have already been determined, an injury resulting from an accident may only manifest itself at a much later time. This is very common for back injury victims, as well as for those suffering whiplash from an accident. Internal injuries that do not develop until much later may also be subject to litigation in some states, depending on the type of injury and the state involved. Each state has the authority to establish reasonable statutes of limitations for any type of lawsuit, including cases involving medical malpractice.

Statutes of Limitations

The amount of time that a personal injury claimant has to file an auto accident injury is called a statute of limitations. These laws do not apply uniformly for all types of lawsuits in most states. Accidents that involve personal injury are usually filed quickly, but this is not always the case.

In addition, auto accident cases can be very complicated, especially if multiple parties are involved. One problem with a statute of limitations is determining when the time period to file the claim actually runs, also known as the "discovery" rule. Some states adjust the time period according to when the accident victim actually discovers the injury. If the potential exists for a denied claim because of an expired limitation statute, then it may be a good idea to consult with a lawyer to explore your options.

Filing a Claim Against a Negligent Respondent

In most cases, the injury victim has to initially deal with the respondent's insurance adjuster. In expired limitation statute cases, the adjuster can ask the insurance company attorney to request a summary dismissal, so having an experienced and effective personal injury attorney can make a real difference when the advancement of the case is in question.

Insurance companies typically deny claims on a regular basis, and a good personal injury attorney can help negotiate and advance your claim. While two years is typical for most personal injury claims (with three years' limitation for property damage), the range actually runs from one to six years in the various states for personal injuries, including those suffered in an auto accident.

Wrongful Death Personal Injury Accident Claims

Wrongful death legal action enjoys more allowance on the limitation statutes in some states. Wrongful death claims can also be contingent on other factors that can extend the filing time period.

Loss of consortium claims can also result from wrongful death, which allows the dependent children and spouse of an accident victim to sue for non-economic compensatory damages. These cases can also be complicated when the death occurs after the standard statute of limitations. Some states will extend the time period for an acceptable legal action to five or six years—once again depending on the state and the acceptable material case facts.

Filing Claims Against the Government

State and federal vehicles are involved in accidents regularly, but filing a personal injury claim from an accident can be subject to a much shorter time frame. Cases against the government are considered administrative actions, and the injury victim must apply for damages first within a specific time frame, which is usually very short. Unless there is a material case fact that results in another claim, the time frame for action against a government agency will expire quickly.

Accident victims who have an auto accident injury that developed after the fact should always contact an experienced personal injury and auto accident attorney. A solid personal injury attorney will be able to evaluate the case for validity, and understand how to craft and maximize a case that will be able to advance through the court system.

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