Suffering from an injury is always traumatic, regardless of how the injury occurred. Injuries can range anywhere from a broken bone to a spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury. These injuries can change a person’s life forever, damaging not only their bodies but their finances and their emotional wellbeing as well. What many people do not know is failing to file a claim in a timely manner can prevent them from getting compensation for their injuries. How long after an accident can you claim an injury? The answer is simple: the sooner you take action, the better.
The Statute of Limitations on Filing Injury Claims Is Already Running
Like many legal undertakings, injury claims have time limits. The standard time limitation on filing a personal injury claim is two years from the date of the incident which caused the injury. However, you need to know when this “clock” starts running so you know what’s at stake.
Here are some of the issues you need to be aware of as you’re considering when to file a personal injury lawsuit:
- Injured by a government employee or on government grounds – In a claim against the government, plaintiffs must file a lawsuit within six months of the date of the incident which resulted in injury. If you file any later than this, the court could dismiss your case entirely!
- Age-restricted exceptions – If the victim of an injury is a minor under Texas law, e.g. under the age of 18, the two-year clock may be suspended until such time the minor reaches the age of 18. Keep in mind, this does not mean a parent or legal guardian is prevented from filing a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of the child.
- Mental competency of the victim – Should a victim not be of sound mind at the time of the injury, the “clock” may stop until the victim regains mental competence. Competency can be determined by a professional assessment of a patient’s communication, understanding, appreciation, and reasoning skills.
- The responsible party leaves the state – If, after an incident in which the person responsible for an injury flees the state, the time they leave may not count towards the two years. This is detailed further in Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 16.063.
Because legal cases take time to put together, it is best to speak with an attorney as soon after an accident as possible. Set your case up for success from the start!
The Reasons for a Statute of Limitations
Victims often wonder why they have time limits imposed by law. Keep in mind this is not unique to Texas—every state has a statute of limitations on filing claims. These limits apply to both criminal and civil law. Exceptions only apply to the most severe criminal cases, namely murder of another person.
Sticking to civil law—which is what dictates actions in personal injury cases—the statutes exist to ensure people do not face the threat of being sued years after an accident that caused an injury.
Keep in mind that as time passes, the following things often occur:
- Memories fade – When an incident occurs where there are witnesses, those witnesses’ memories will fade as time goes on. It’s only natural. If testimony is not recorded, the person held responsible for the injury could be at a disadvantage if one of the witnesses saw something which could minimize their liability.
- Chances for potential destruction of evidence increase – Evidence such as surveillance tapes and even police reports are only kept for specific periods of time. Therefore, both the victim and responsible party could suffer a setback if such evidence disappears.
These are just a couple of the reasons why these time limits matter.
Insurance Company Adjusters and Statutes of Limitations
There’s a reason it’s hard to get in touch with insurance adjusters. Insurance companies are well aware of the statutes of limitations that apply to personal injury lawsuits. They know the longer they can stretch out negotiations between victims and insurance companies, the easier it is for them to pay a lower settlement amount. Remember, the insurance company will use every legal means to ensure they pay as little as possible to settle a lawsuit, even when they know their client is liable for the injuries! How can you get through to them? Filing a lawsuit changes the calculations for an insurer.
In some instances of an injury, the victim may not even realize what’s happened to them. The immediate aftermath of an accident is chaotic, and victims are often flooded with adrenaline that dulls or masks their pain. This is why many statutes of limitations include language which states “ …from the date it was discovered, or the date on which it would have been discovered with reasonable efforts.” If you were injured several months ago and are only now learning about adverse effects, it is not too late for you to file a claim. Still, before you contact the insurance company, you should speak with a qualified personal injury lawyer. Know your right, and know your options!
Wrongful Death Lawsuits and Statutes of Limitations
Wrongful death claims are brought by surviving family members of victims of personal injury. The theory behind a wrongful death claim is that if the victim survived their injuries, they could have filed a lawsuit against the responsible party. Anytime a family wants to file a wrongful death claim, the same Texas statutes of limitations apply. The most significant difference is if a surviving family member does not file suit within three months of the death, the estate of the decedent may file on behalf of the estate.
The Severity of Injuries Does Not Change Statutes of Limitations
Victims should be aware their condition following an injury does not impact the statutes of limitations. For example, you may have noticed the language specifically refers to a victim’s mental state before the incident resulting in an injury. Should a victim be in a coma or vegetative state due to traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury, a family member should speak with an attorney immediately upon being notified of this condition. This is critical, as you do not want to lose the right to file a lawsuit.
Victims need an attorney to serve as an advocate. The more severe the injury, the more complicated the case can get. For some victims, the totality of their expenses from an injury may be unclear until several months after an injury. They may even require lifelong care. An experienced personal injury lawyer has access to experts who can help them determine what to expect during both a best- and worst-case recovery.
Types of Claims and Statutes of Limitations
When someone is responsible for an injury you’ve suffered, they can be held financially liable for the costs associated with your recovery. Some incidents where this applies include:
Slip and Fall Accidents
These types of accidents can result in serious injury. Typically, to prove someone is liable for a slip and fall, one has to demonstrate the following two facts:
- A condition existed that caused your injury.
- The liable person knew or should have known about the condition.
- The liable person did not take adequate measures to repair the condition or to provide warnings.
These types of accidents are considered premises liability claims.
What do we mean by “condition?” There are many examples, but here are two common issues:
- Handrail on a staircase is broken – If a hand railing is newly broken then it’s harder to hold the property owner liable. However, if the handrail was broken for more than a week or two, you have an easier case.
- Slipped on a wet surface – If someone drops a bottle of juice in a supermarket and the person behind them slips and falls, the store is generally not liable. If the juice remains on the floor for an extended time without a warning sign, however, they may be liable.
Victims who suffer an injury on the job are often confused as to what rights they have. You are legally responsible for filing a report with your employer after you get hurt on the job. Victims of workplace injuries should also file a Texas worker’s compensation claim. However, if a person other than your employer caused your injury, you still have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Unfortunately, many accidents can occur on Texas roadways. Accidents are more likely to happen in cities than in rural areas. According to a recent study, 60% of the top 20 most congested roads in Texas were in the Houston metro area.
The responsibility for a traffic accident can involve different parties. Each person who is responsible means a different insurance company to negotiate with. This complicates a personal injury case considerably, and it can be hard to manage without the help of a car accident attorney.
Some of the responsible parties may include:
- The driver of the vehicle – The driver of the vehicle who caused an accident and resulted in your suffering an injury is responsible for your losses. In these cases, two adjusters may contact you: one for your injury (medical adjuster) and one for the damage to your vehicle (property adjuster).
- The person who served alcohol – If the driver who struck you was intoxicated, the party who served them “excess” alcohol may also be partially liable for your injuries. The responsible party may be a bar owner who overserved a patron, or even an adult who hosted a social event. Remember, the driver’s criminal charges need not be proven before filing a personal injury claim.
- Owner of a trucking company – If you were injured in a truck accident, you might sue the trucking company for your injuries. Poorly trained drivers, poorly maintained vehicles, and other conditions may result in the owner being included in a demand for settlement or insurance claim.
Keep in mind, each of these types of accidents has the same two-year statute of limitations unless they apply to a government entity being partially liable. Talk to an attorney to make sure you know your rights and options moving forward.
Statutes of Limitations by State
Statutes of limitations vary by state; they are not all two years. Some states have shorter statutes of limitations while others have longer ones. That’s one reason why you need an attorney with nationwide experience, especially if your accident takes place outside of your state.
- One year statutes – Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee
- Two year statutes – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia
- Three year statutes – Arkansas, District of Columbia (D.C.), Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin
- Four year statutes – Florida, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming
- Five year statutes – Missouri
- Six year statutes – Maine, North Dakota—note: ND allows only two years for wrongful death lawsuits
Note that these statutes may change from time to time. Collaborate with an attorney to ensure you don’t miss the deadline on your lawsuit!
Working With a Personal Injury Lawyer
Finding the right attorney following an accident is important. During this stressful time, you need an ally and an advocate who will fight for you. Your car accident lawyer will work hard to ensure you get the compensation you deserve for your injuries.
A skilled attorney can help in the following ways:
- Filing insurance claims for you – The claims process can be difficult. The forms can be confusing, and if a mistake occurs, the process has to be started all over again. Turn this over to your lawyer and let them take care of it—they have extensive experience filing claims.
- Conducting negotiations with insurance adjusters – While you’re recovering from your injury, the last thing you want to do is deal with insurance adjusters. Not only will your lawyer handle negotiations on your behalf, but they will also handle all other communication and keep you up to date.
- Ensuring your settlement is sufficient – In addition to calculating how much compensation you should pursue, your lawyer can fight hard to make sure the insurance company understands you will not settle for less than you deserve for your injuries.
- Taking the issue to court if needed – Even as your attorney works hard to get a settlement from an insurer, they will prepare to litigate on your behalf in court. If your attorney cannot negotiate successfully with an insurer, have confidence that they can immediately file a lawsuit and fight for a settlement in court.
If you still have questions, a personal injury lawyer near you can answer them and evaluate your claim to see whether you have a good case.