If you've been involved in a motor vehicle accident, you are likely wondering how long after the crash you have to file a claim to seek compensation from the other driver and their insurance provider. You may have been overwhelmed after the accident and not taken legal action, or you may just now be feeling the effects of your injuries. Although there are exceptions, the state does have specific time limits on when you can file a claim against the defendant.
California has a few different statutes of limitations that apply to car accident claims depending on the nature of the accident and the type of damage being demanded. If you attempt to file a claim after the relevant statute of limitations has lapsed, the court will likely discard your case before it can progress further.
Different Statute of Limitations for Different Types of Car Accidents
- Personal injury claims: California uses a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims, which you would use if you needed compensation for damages related to your bodily injuries suffered in a car accident. Personal injury claims can also award claimants compensation related to their lost wages and noneconomic damages, like pain and suffering.
- Property damage claims: When seeking compensation related to physical damage caused to your vehicle in a crash, a three-year statute of limitations applies. Property damage claims are technically separate from personal injury claims, but many car accident attorneys can help you manage both claims at once.
- Wrongful death claims: If you lose a loved one in a car accident, the same statutes of limitations for personal injury and property damage claims apply – two and three years, respectively. However, it is important to note that some governmental entities are immune from wrongful death suits. You should work with a wrongful death lawyer to discover your legal options after losing a loved one to a fatal crash.
Special Statutes of Limitations for Government Entities
If you were in an automobile accident with a government entity – which can be a local, municipal, state, or federal entity – a brief six-month statute of limitation will apply to your case. During those first six months, you will need to file an administrative claim with that entity, which describes the accident, your damages, and why the entity should pay those damages. Failing to file an administrative claim within six months of your accident will invalidate any future attempts to seek compensation from the government defendant.
Once you file an administrative claim, the government entity has 45 days to respond, which could include a rejection letter. If your claim is rejected, then you have six months to file a lawsuit, starting on the day the rejection letter is postmarked or hand-delivered. This is why you should always open any mail from a government entity as soon as you get it. On the other hand, if no rejection letter is sent, then you have two years from the day of your accident to file a lawsuit.
Because car accident claims against government entities can be so complicated and include numerous statutes of limitations – such as to file an administrative claim, to expect a response, and to file a lawsuit – working with an experienced car accident attorney is always highly recommended.
Should You File a Claim Right After a Crash?
California law allows accident victims to file a lawsuit immediately following an auto accident, but that does not mean you should. Recovering from serious injuries may take a long time, resulting in additional treatment and prolonged therapies, which all add up to greater medical costs. Before you file a claim and demand a certain amount of damage, you and your treating medical providers should have a confirmed treatment plan in place that outlines the likely medical costs you will experience far into the future.
Having an experienced injury lawyer while you deal with medical treatment is essential, as they can coordinate with medical providers to ascertain the amount of care and cost of that care in order to quantify your damage claim. Too often, accident victims settle their claims too quickly, resulting in out-of-pocket expenses that add up.
If you have questions about filing a claim or about an accident, call BD&J at (855) 906-3699 for a free consultation! We have law offices throughout California for your convenience.