How Long After an Accident Can You Claim Injury?

Posted on July 9, 2024 in Car Accidents

If you’ve suffered an injury in a car crash, you may be wondering, “How long after an accident can I claim injury?” The answer isn’t always simple. It depends on the type of claim and where you live. You have some time, but the sooner you act, the better.

Contacting a Phoenix car accident lawyer immediately is the best way to protect your rights and ensure you get the compensation you deserve for your injuries, medical bills, lost income, pain, and suffering.

Understanding the Statute of Limitations

Every state has laws called statutes of limitations that set deadlines for filing lawsuits. For car accident injury claims, you typically have anywhere from one to six years after the crash date to sue the at-fault party, depending on the state. If you wait too long, the court will likely dismiss your case.

However, moving quickly for reasons beyond the legal deadline is best. Over time, people can lose evidence, and witnesses’ memories can fade. The at-fault party’s insurance company will also be less likely to offer a fair settlement if significant time has passed. The longer you wait, the harder it becomes to build a strong case

So, while you may have a few years to file a lawsuit, you should still contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after your accident to get the process started. Most offer free initial consultations, so getting advice on your situation costs you nothing.

Claims Against Government Entities

If your accident involved a government vehicle or happened due to poor road conditions, you may need to sue a government entity like a city, county, or state. These cases have much shorter notice requirements than typical car accident lawsuits.

Depending on the state and government entity, you may need to file a formal claim within as little as 30-180 days of the incident. If you miss this short window, you likely lose your right to compensation entirely. Government claims also involve complicated procedures that you must follow exactly.

This is why speaking with an experienced personal injury lawyer immediately is especially important if a government entity may be liable for your crash. An attorney can determine the specific deadlines and requirements that apply to ensure your rights are protected.

Insurance Claims vs. Lawsuits

It’s important to understand that insurance claims are different from lawsuits. After a car accident, you typically file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company or your own if they were uninsured/underinsured.

There are a few reasons why pursuing an insurance claim first often makes sense:

Most Accidents Settle Through Insurance Without a Lawsuit

Urban car collision scene

Insurance settlements resolve most car accident injury claims without requiring a formal lawsuit. This is generally good news for injured victims, as reaching an insurance settlement is almost always faster and easier than going to court.

Here’s why most cases settle:

  • Insurers want to avoid the expense of litigation
  • Lawsuits are time-consuming and involve complex procedures with no guaranteed outcome
  • Settling allows both sides more control over the result
  • Most accidents have a fairly clear-cut at-fault party

In a typical car crash claim, your personal injury lawyer sends the insurance company a demand letter outlining your injuries and requesting compensation. The insurer usually responds with a counteroffer, kicking off negotiations. This continues until both sides agree on a number or reach an impasse.

Achieving a fair settlement requires presenting strong evidence of the other driver’s fault and the extent of your injuries. Experienced attorneys know how to build a case that proves your right to substantial compensation. In most instances, this is enough to convince the insurer to settle.

However, if the insurance company refuses to make a reasonable offer, you always have the option to sue. Sometimes, filing a lawsuit is enough to make them change their tune. Most insurers ultimately settle before trial to avoid the risk of a runaway jury verdict. But having a lawyer ready and willing to sue strengthens your bargaining power.

Insurance Claims Settle Faster Than Lawsuits

Another advantage of settling an accident claim through insurance is that the process is usually much quicker than litigation. With a lawsuit, getting a trial date on the court calendar can take a year or more, and difficult cases can drag on for many years.

In contrast, most insurance claims settle within a few months. Though every case is different, yours may resolve even faster if:

  • Fault is obvious
  • Your injuries are well-documented
  • You have a skilled lawyer negotiating for you

Of course, some insurance companies still drag their feet, especially in cases involving severe injuries. They may request excessive documentation, hoping to wear you down and get you to accept less. But even if the process takes longer than expected, it’s almost certainly still faster than suing.

Reaching a quick settlement is often ideal for accident victims. The sooner you have money, the sooner you can pay your medical bills, cover your lost income, and get your life back to normal. You also avoid the stress of depositions, court appearances, and drawn-out proceedings.

However, settling too quickly can be a mistake if you still treat your injuries. Once you accept an insurance offer, you typically can’t reopen your claim if you need more care. An experienced personal injury attorney can advise you on the right time to settle to ensure all your damages are covered.

The Option to File a Lawsuit if Insurance Negotiations Fail

Judge's hand with car model, legal documents, and gavel

While most accident claims settle out of court, insurance negotiations aren’t always successful. If the adjuster refuses to make a fair offer, you may need to file a lawsuit to get the compensation you deserve. This is one of the most important reasons to hire a personal injury lawyer after an accident.

Insurance companies are far more likely to lowball victims who represent themselves. They know unrepresented individuals may not understand the full value of their claim or the legal process to sue. Some adjusters use this lack of knowledge to pressure victims into accepting an injustice.

In contrast, insurers tend to make better offers to claimants who have an attorney from the start. They know your lawyer can file a lawsuit if negotiations fail. They also know that a jury may award you far more than they offer if the case goes to trial. Often, insurers will rather settle fairly than take that risk.

This doesn’t mean your attorney will automatically sue if insurance negotiations stall. Most personal injury lawyers are skilled negotiators who can often break a settlement impasse without litigation. However, having the option to sue if needed undoubtedly motivates insurers to do the right thing.

In some cases, filing a lawsuit may be advisable even if the insurer makes a reasonable offer. For example, if your injuries are severe and require lifelong care, you may need a structured settlement that pays your anticipated expenses. Insurers rarely agree to lifetime payouts without the pressure of litigation.

Regardless of the reason, it’s best to have an attorney up to the task if suing becomes necessary. The right personal injury lawyers prepare every case as if it’s going to trial and aren’t afraid to fight for you in court if needed. Choose your representation with this possibility in mind.

However, insurance companies are businesses that prioritize profits over people. They often make lowball settlement offers or unfairly deny claims altogether. If this happens, you’ll need to escalate to a lawsuit to seek fair compensation for your injuries.

Most states give you more time to sue than to file an insurance claim. However, insurance policies still have their notice requirements, separate from legal deadlines, buried in the fine print. If you wait too long, you may lose your right to insurance coverage.

Notifying the insurance company right after the accident is the best approach to protecting your ability to get an insurance settlement or sue if needed. Having a personal injury attorney handle communications will ensure your claim is filed properly and on time.

When the Clock Starts Ticking

In most states, the statute of limitations clock starts on the accident date. However, some states follow a “discovery rule,” which starts the clock when you know or should have known about the injury.

This can make a difference if your symptoms took time to appear or you didn’t realize the extent of your injuries at first. With some ailments like concussions or internal bleeding, it’s not always obvious right away.

However, the discovery rule usually only applies when you cannot immediately identify the injury after the accident. If you felt pain that worsened over time, that’s different from an injury that appeared weeks later.

It’s best not to count on the discovery rule. Instead, get medical attention right after an accident, even if you feel okay. This documents the date of the injury and rules out invisible wounds. Follow up with your physician if new symptoms arise. The longer you wait to get diagnosed and treated, the easier it is for insurers to argue your injuries aren’t accident-related.

Don’t Accept the First Offer

Businesswoman refusing a money-filled envelope offered during an investment deal

After an accident, the at-fault party’s insurance company may contact you with a fast settlement offer. As tempting as it is to take the money and move on, this is rarely a good idea.

Remember, insurers profit by paying out as little as possible. Their initial offer will almost certainly be far lower than you’re entitled to. If you accept it, you waive your right to any further compensation down the road.

The full extent of accident injuries is rarely known right away. Some take months or years to heal. You may need ongoing treatment, surgeries, or time off work you hadn’t anticipated. If you’ve already settled for less, you’ll be on the hook for those future expenses.

Before accepting any offer, consult a personal injury lawyer to ensure it’s fair based on your injuries. The insurer may return with a better number if they know you have professional representation. If not, your attorney can file a lawsuit for maximum compensation.

Negotiating with Insurers

Insurance companies often use delay tactics after an accident. They may take weeks or months to respond to your claim, hoping you’ll get frustrated and go away. Or they’ll request a seemingly endless stream of documents before discussing settlement.

Sometimes, they twist your innocuous statements against you, claiming they prove the accident was your fault. Or they may request full access to your medical history, seeking to blame your injuries on pre-existing conditions.

Aggressive insurers may even resort to bullying, pressuring you to accept an unfairly low offer because they know you’re vulnerable. No matter how sympathetic they may sound, they do not have your best interests.

You should never negotiate with an insurance company or provide a recorded statement. Politely decline to discuss the specifics of your situation and refer them to your personal injury attorney instead.

A good lawyer levels the playing field. Insurers can’t bully someone who knows the law and isn’t afraid to sue. Your attorney can submit evidence proving the seriousness of your injuries and handle all negotiations on your behalf, ensuring you receive a fair settlement.

When You Can’t Avoid Suing

Unfortunately, insurance companies don’t always play fair, even when you have a lawyer. If the adjuster doesn’t budge from a lowball offer, you may have no choice but to file a lawsuit before time runs out. Your attorney can assist in deciding if suing is advisable.

It’s important to note that most personal injury lawsuits settle before trial. Filing one doesn’t guarantee you’ll appear before a judge and jury, but you should anticipate that possibility.

Sometimes, putting the lawsuit together and entering the discovery phase is enough for insurers to get reasonable. They know a jury might award you far more at trial if the case doesn’t settle. Most will rather reach a fair agreement than take that risk.

However, if the insurance company still refuses to make an acceptable offer, going to court may be your only recourse to get the compensation you need to regain your health and rebuild your life. Fortunately, most personal injury attorneys work on contingency, meaning they only get paid if you do. You have little to lose by at least filing suit.

Call a Personal Injury Attorney Today

Professional lawyer handshake in meeting with justice scales and gavel on desk, symbolizing legal agreement

Were you or a loved one recently injured in an accident? Don’t go through the legal process alone or get taken advantage of by an insurance company. You need an experienced personal injury lawyer in Phoenix to fight for the maximum compensation you deserve.

Contact a trusted attorney today for a free, no-obligation consultation. The sooner you make the call, the better your chances of a full physical and financial recovery.