How Long is the Statute of Limitations for a Car Accident?

After a car accident, once the dust has cleared and you have regained your composure, you will likely be worrying about the damage done to your car, how long it will take to repair or replace it, and how you are going to pay for those expenses. If the car accident was not your fault, then you will not have to. You can file a personal injury claim that establishes the negligence of the other driver in causing the car accident, which means that their insurance company pays for the damages. 

However, you have a limited amount of time to file that lawsuit or else you will not be able to receive any compensation to take care of any expenses caused by the car accident. That is why you need to hire a personal injury lawyer as quickly as possible after the accident if you do not want to miss the deadline. Your lawyer will make sure that all legal matters are taken care of in a prompt and proper manner. Car accident lawsuits need the right professional assistance, so make sure to get the right attorney.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit from the time when the accident happened. In most cases the clock starts running from the time the accident occurred, however, in other cases, the clock only starts running once any injuries from the accident start to appear. That is mainly in cases where a person gets injured but may not show any signs until much later. 

In car accident cases, even if there is no injury to the driver, there is likely damage to their vehicle, which is why the clock starts running after the accident happens. Each state has their own statute of limitations that varies based on the type of case, so there is no universal statute of limitations on either a national level or a state level.

The Statute of Limitations in California

Every state has their own statute of limitations for various legal cases, but in California the deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit is two years from when the accident occurred. This is the same deadline for filing any kind of personal injury lawsuit since car accidents are a subset of personal injury law. There are some variables to this statute. The two year deadline applies specifically to personal injury, so if the driver or passenger were injured, then they have two years to file a lawsuit. 

If the driver is uninjured but wants to file a lawsuit over damage to their vehicle, then they have a limit of three years to do so. If someone ends up dying as a result of the accident, then the statute of limitations for their family members to file a lawsuit is still two years. However, the clock only starts running on the date of the person’s death, so if they died sometime after the accident, then that is when the statute of limitations begins.

What Happens if The Statute of Limitations Passes?

If you try to file a lawsuit after the deadline has passed, then the courts will refuse to hear your case. However, there are some instances where the statute of limitations can be tolled, i.e. suspended, for some time. If the victim was under 18 at the time of the accident, then the statute of limitations is paused until they turn 18. 

If the person responsible for the accident is also under 18, or if they have left the state, or if they are in prison, then the case is tolled until those conditions have changed. So the clock will not start running until they have turned 18, returned to California, or been released from prison.  

Do Not Miss Your Deadline: Hire a Lawyer

If you do not want to miss the deadline for filing a lawsuit, then you should hire a lawyer as soon as possible after the accident. It may seem like you have a lot of time to file a lawsuit but preparing the case can take some time and the deadline can approach faster than you think. A personal injury attorney will make sure that your lawsuit is filed on time before the statute of limitations expires.

Will Hopstetter
Will is an automotive market enthusiast living in the United Kingdom. He holds a diverse background in automotive and enjoys utilizing that to produce insights into the inner workings of the industry.