If you were injured in a car accident, one of the key laws you need to understand is the statute of limitations and how it affects your ability to sue the negligent driver for the compensation you deserve. The statute of limitations is a state law that sets the deadline of the time limit you have to sue the motorist who hit you. If you fail to file your lawsuit within this time period, you lose your right to sue him forever.
What Is the Statute of Limitations in Car Accident Cases?
Under Georgia law, there are different statutes of limitations for different types of lawsuits. For example, the time period to sue in a breach of contract action could be different than in a personal injury case. Even in car accident cases, there are a number of time periods you should keep in mind in terms of your case against the negligent driver. These crucial time periods to sue are as follows:
Two years for personal injuries
Four years for property damage, such as to your vehicle or the contents of your vehicle that were damaged
Two years for wrongful death
When Does the Statute of Limitations Begin Running?
You also need to understand when the clock—or time—begins to run on your deadline to sue. Like with the statute of limitations, there are different laws depending on what type of claim you are pursuing. The following is a brief overview:
For personal injuries and property damage, the time period begins running on the date of the accident.
For wrongful death actions, the time period begins to run on the date of the accident victim’s death.
Even if you believe you missed the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit, you should contact an experienced car accident attorney to discuss your specific situation. In certain limited exceptions, the time period to sue could be extended by special laws or court decisions.
Special Statute of Limitations Rules for Accident Victims Who Are Minors
One exception to the statute of limitations laws is when minors are injured in a car accident. The statute of limitations is tolled—or stops running—until they are emancipated by either becoming married or reaching 18 years old, whichever is later. This means minors have two years to file a lawsuit for personal injuries from the date of their marriage or the date they turn 18 years old, whichever is later. However, if the minor died as a result of the accident, a wrongful death action must be filed within two years of the date of his death.
Does the Statute of Limitations Apply to Negotiations With the Insurance Company?
The statute of limitations only applies to your ability to file a lawsuit against the negligent driver. While you technically are not prohibited from negotiating with the insurance company for the negligent driver after this time period expires, there is a practical reason you would not want to do this. Insurance adjusters understand the laws that apply to car accident cases—including the statute of limitations. If you wait until the time limit to sue has ended, an insurance adjuster would have no incentive to try to settle your case because he knows you are barred from filing a lawsuit. In addition, it would raise serious doubts about the validity of your case if you waited this long to make a claim with the negligent driver’s insurance company.
Why You Do Not Want to Delay Contacting a Car Accident Attorney
If your car accident just occurred, you may believe that you have plenty of time to hire an attorney. After all, you have two years to sue the other driver. While this is true, you want to contact an attorney as soon as possible after your accident. The benefits of retaining an attorney right away include:
Preserving evidence. An attorney can preserve evidence that could be lost if not obtained quickly, such as a business surveillance tape, red light camera footage, or accident scene pictures. In addition, witnesses may be impossible to locate or have a poor memory of what happened if you wait too long to contact them.
Avoid mistakes. An attorney can help you avoid making an inadvertent mistake that could hurt your ability to obtain the compensation you deserve. For example, you could make the mistake of giving a recorded statement where the adjuster asks you questions and your answers are recorded or signing a blanket medical authorization releasing all your medical records to the insurance company.
Negotiating with the insurance company. An attorney will have a better idea of what your case is worth and when the best time to begin settlement negotiations with the other driver’s insurance company is. He may advise you to wait until your medical treatments have been completed or you know your final diagnosis so you can include all your medical expenses and lost wages in your settlement offer.
Not missing the statute of limitations. An attorney will understand what Georgia statute of limitations laws apply to your case and will be certain to file your lawsuit before this important deadline expires.