The injuries and losses from a car accident may last a lifetime, but you're chance to file a lawsuit doesn't.
Instead, the law has a specific time frame for you to bring a case. This is known as the statute of limitations.
These restrictions place a time limit to bring potential lawsuits. If you were involved in a car accident this limit is crucial, because without the threat of legal action there is no way of making an insurance company pay for your injuries.
Insurance companies are keenly aware of the statute of limitations and will sometimes string along a potential settlement offer in an effort to run out the statute of limitations.
What is the statute of limitations for a car accident case?
Of the many goals the legal system has is promoting efficient justice. In virtually every area of the law---criminal offenses, contract disputes, landlord-tenant cases---the law caps the length of time in which a claim may be brought.
Think about it this way: if charges were brought against you for doing 45 mph in a 30 mph zone 20 years ago, how could you defend yourself?
No one can remember the facts surrounding such an event, and the charging officer might have even passed away by that point. The same thing holds true for car accident cases.
The actual statutes which determine how long you have to file a claim are found in the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Title 2, Chapter 16, Section 16.003.
It reads: Sec. 16.003.TWO-YEAR LIMITATIONS PERIOD:
- (a) Except as provided by Sections 16.010, 16.0031, and 16.0045, a person must bring suit for trespass for injury to the estate or to the property of another, conversion of personal property, taking or detaining the personal property of another, personal injury, forcible entry and detainer, and forcible detainer not later than two years after the day the cause of action accrues.
- (b) A person must bring suit not later than two years after the day the cause of action accrues in an action for injury resulting in death. The cause of action accrues on the death of the injured person.
A quick summary of the statute of limitations for car accidents in Texas
As clear as can be, right? The statute of limitations is not particularly convoluted, there's just a lot of situations covered in a very short space. The relevant part is that in the list of actions, which have a two year limit to be filed is a personal injury claim.
The part that is most pertinent to your car accident case is that unless certain narrow circumstances (discussed below) are met, you only have 2 years to bring a car accident lawsuit.
That means that the clock starts ticking the day of the incident, and you must at least have your lawsuit on file within a two-year period or your claim simply vanishes as if the accident never happened.
Can you increase the period of time you have to bring a lawsuit?
The short answer is no, however there are exceptions that can be made to the statute of limitations. Courts can "toll" the statue of limitations if you can show that there is an extraordinary circumstance that requires the statute of limitations to be extended.
One of the main ways that a statute of limitations can be waived is if the plaintiff suffers a brain injury that causes them to have a diminished mental capacity where they cannot understand the merits of their claim.
For example, imagine a person is an a car accident, they suffer severe head trauma, and go into a coma. Upon awaking from the coma, they have temporary diminished mental ability and are unable to comprehend what a lawsuit is.
You would be able to toll the statutory period until after the disability is lifted and they are cured. Once the disability is lifted, the statutory period will begin counting down, even if the disability is lifted more than two years after the accident.
Examples of Exceptions
Further, courts must toll the statute for minors until they reach the age of 18, regardless of their mental condition. Even if a 16 year-old is a genius, has graduated from college, and is currently in graduate school, her statute doesn't begin to run until her 18th birthday.
Similarly, the law allows a tolling of the statute for those on "active military duty." If a Marine is hit by another car the day before a two-year deployment overseas, he'll be allowed the two extra years when he is no longer actively training or deployed.
As you can see, none of these situations are actual legal strategies, nor do they pertain to most situations. For the vast majority of us, once the statute of limitations starts ticking, there is no stopping it.
Why the statute of limitations is not as long as you may think.
Two years can seem like a long time after a car accident, but it's not. Here are just some reasons why you shouldn't wait before filing a suit:
- Evidence tends to "walk away" the longer you wait after your car accident. We want to visit the scene of the incident, subpoena witnesses before they leave the state, and get fresh recollections of all concerned.
- We need time to research potential third party defendants. It's often not "just" the other driver who is liable for your injuries.
- Getting a lawsuit drafted, on file with the clerk, and served on the defendant(s) takes time. We want our first filing with the court to be correct, not rushed and sloppy. The more time you attorney has to work with, the better.
Insurance companies and the statute of limitations
Equally important is that insurance companies are well aware of the statute of limitations and how to manipulate it. If your estimate of your damage and the insurance company's estimate are very far off, the insurance company may employ a tactic of stalling.
Calls to the adjuster may not be returned. Communication can slow down, not enough to make you think they are ignoring you, but just enough to keep you playing their game. If it drags out long enough, they know that time is on their side.
If an insurance company is not responding to you in a timely manner, this may be what they are trying to do. In these cases it is likely that they have determined that you are unlikely to file a lawsuit and without that threat hanging over their heads, they are free to move as slowly as they like.
If it is very late in the process, your legal options may be limited, as many attorneys will not take on cases that are close to reaching the statute of limitations.
The ones that do, generally filed rushed paperwork, which could damage your claim, all because a damaged claim is better than no claim at all.
All of this is to say, you cannot wait until you're getting remotely close to the statute's restrictions. Call us today before it's too late.
How we can help.
Our car accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have twenty five years of experience and have helped thousands of clients in their injury cases.
We can help you identify the statute of limitations for your case and help you take the necessary steps to ensure that you are able to bring your claim against the defendant and receive the compensation that you deserve.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, you should call one of our attorneys for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000. The call is completely confidential.
If you have been injured in a car accident, you may be interested in these related articles:
- An Overview of Negligence Arguments in Car Accident Cases
- What is Gross Negligence?
- Do I Really Need a Lawyer?
- How Car Accident Insurance Works