How Long do Car Accident Victims Have to File Claims?

August 13, 2022
How Long do Car Accident Victims Have to File Claims?

When a person gets injured in a car accident, making a claim usually starts with an insurance company. Reporting a claim to an insurance company may be sufficient to trigger coverage under an insurance policy, but it does not initiate legal claim proceedings. If negotiations with an insurance company break down then a lawsuit can be filed – but only if it is done within a certain time period after the accident occurs. 

Limiting the time for bringing lawsuits forces people to resolve their legal differences while there is still enough information available for a court to arrive at a fair resolution. It also ensures that people won’t have to worry about being sued over a particular matter for the rest of their lives – and neither will insurance companies which help keep insurance premiums affordable. 

Oklahoma’s Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims

Most personal injury lawsuits in Oklahoma must be filed within two years of the date of injury. However, in situations where a claim is brought against one of several responsible parties within the limitations period, the statute of limitations as to the other responsible parties extends to one year after the initial claim is finalized.

Does the Discovery Rule Apply for Car Accident Injuries?

There are some situations where an injury may not become known until the damage is discovered years later. A strict application of a two-year statute of limitations could leave persons with legitimate claims unable to seek recovery. The discovery rule changes the start time for the limitations period from the date of the injury to the date that the injury was discovered – or reasonably should have been discovered. 

The discovery rule applies to the two-year statute of limitations for injury claims based on medical malpractice in Oklahoma because injuries caused by medical professionals may not be recognized when they occur. However, in car accident injury cases, the date of the accident is the date of the injury for purposes of beginning the statute of limitations period.

Circumstances That Toll the Statute of Limitations

Even when the date of injury is known, there are certain circumstances that will stop the statutory time period from running as it usually would. During the period of time the particular circumstances exist, the statutory limitation period is tolled and does not begin to run again until the circumstances end. The statute of limitations for personal injury claims from a car accident will be tolled for the following reasons:

  • Claimant is a minor – If a car accident results in personal injury to a minor child, the child has until one year past their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit for injuries from the accident. 
  • Claimant has a mental disability – If an injured claimant has a legal disability, the statute of limitations will be tolled during the period of disability and the claimant will have one year beyond the removal of the disability to file a lawsuit. 
  • Participation in mediation – To encourage resolutions of civil matters through mediation, Oklahoma tolls the applicable statute of limitations from the time mediation is agreed to until such time as the mediator terminates the mediation. 
  • At-fault party is incarcerated – If the at-fault party goes to jail for the conduct causing the accident, an injured claimant has 5 years after the perpetrator is released from custody to file a lawsuit. 
  • Unable to obtain service of process – When a person cannot be properly notified of a lawsuit because they have left the state or are hiding, the statute of limitations may be tolled for the period of time the person is gone provided there are no other available legal means to establish jurisdiction. 

Agreements to Toll the Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitation can be tolled by agreement between some or all of the involved parties. An agreement to toll a statute of limitations can be for a specific duration or can be for an indefinite period of time. Tolling agreements are only effective between the parties to the agreement and do not affect the statute of limitations as to other interested parties. 

An agreement to toll a statute of limitations gives parties that are trying to settle more time to resolve their differences and removes the pressure to file a lawsuit before the statute expires. With extra time, parties can often avoid ending up in court and incurring the additional expense of litigation. 

Can a Lawsuit Proceed if the Filing Deadline is Missed?

Unless one of the tolling exceptions applies or the parties agree to toll the two-year statute of limitations, a personal injury lawsuit that is not filed within the limitations window has virtually no chance of success. 

A lawsuit could be filed but it would almost certainly be dismissed on a motion from the responding party for being in violation of the statute of limitations. It is always a good idea to find out what your rights are fairly soon after an accident and learn the applicable time frame for bringing any legal action.

The Reasons for Time Limitations on the Right to Sue 

Limiting the amount of time for people to seek legal justice for alleged wrongs done by others is beneficial to both plaintiffs and defendants. It encourages those wronged to pursue their claims in a timely manner and gives defendants a sense of certainty about potential liability for wrongs done. Statutes of limitation help ensure legal matters will be resolved while evidence is fresh and while the imposition of justice may yet have some deterrent effect on the wrongdoer. 

Failing to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations period will bar a person’s right to have a court decide contested issues and may result in serious hardship to a party injured in a car accident. Consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney soon after an accident will ensure that the applicable statute of limitations is recognized and a timeline is established so no legal rights are unnecessarily lost. 

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