How Long After a Car Accident Can You Claim Compensation for Your Injuries?
Brian White | December 4, 2020 | Car Accidents
After a car accident in Texas, you must file a personal injury claim within two years. In most cases, this two-year statute of limitations will be easy to meet. However, under very specific circumstances, Texas law will allow you to file a claim after the two years have passed.
Here are some facts you should know about the statute of limitations in Texas.
The General Rule
Section 16.003 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code requires a person to file a lawsuit for personal injury “not later than two years after the day the cause of action accrues.” If a person files a lawsuit after the statute of limitations expires, the court will dismiss the case as time-barred.
Interpretation of the General Rule
The two-year statute of limitations has a few wrinkles that might affect some cases, such as:
- Start date: The time period begins running when the action accrues. In most cases, this is the date of the car accident.
- End date: This law goes by calendar years. This means the end date is the second anniversary of the accident, regardless of leap years. However, if the second anniversary falls on a holiday or weekend, it is extended to the next business day.
- Time period: “Not later than two years” means that the lawsuit can be filed on the anniversary day. For example, if the accident occurred on May 17, 2019, the lawsuit can be filed on or before May 17, 2021. If it is filed on May 18, 2021, or later, the lawsuit will be dismissed.
If you have questions about how the statute of limitations affects your case, you should consider speaking to a personal injury lawyer who can calculate your filing deadline.
Exception to the General Rule
A different rule is applied to cases where a person has died as a result of injuries. In this situation, the time period to file a lawsuit begins with the wrongful death of the injured person.
Suppose a car accident occurred on February 10, 2019, and a passenger injured in the accident was hospitalized until July 27, 2019, when the person died of the injuries. In this case, the time period will end on July 27, 2021 – two years after the death – rather than February 10, 2021 – two years after the accident.
Pausing the Statute of Limitations
Even when the general rule applies, the statute of limitations may be paused under a few circumstances. Four specific situations listed in the code for suspending the statute of limitations are:
- Minors: If the injured person is younger than 18 years old, the statute of limitations is paused until the person turns 18. The 18-year old then has two years to file a lawsuit.
- Mental disability: A person with a mental disability is not subject to the statute of limitations for as long as the person is disabled. However, the disability must exist before the injury. If the person is mentally disabled due to the car accident, the general rule applies, and the lawsuit must be filed within two years after the accident.
- Death: If the person who caused the injury dies before a lawsuit is filed, the statute of limitations is suspended for 12 months or until an executor of the person’s estate is appointed.
- Absence: The time period does not run if the person who caused the injury leaves Texas temporarily.
Although the two year time period is suspended in certain cases, you should consider speaking to a lawyer before the time period ends. A personal injury lawyer can analyze both the law and facts of your case to determine whether your situation allows you to toll the statute of limitations and delay filing a lawsuit. Keep in mind that judges have no power to accept a lawsuit that is filed late.
Reasons to Act Quickly After an Accident
Even though you have two years after an accident to file a lawsuit, many personal injury lawyers prefer that you act quickly after the accident. Delaying action could have a negative effect on your case or the damages you can claim.
Some of the factors that favor quick action are:
- Evidence: Memories fade, and evidence can get lost. By acting quickly, a lawyer can collect witness testimony, police reports, medical records, and footage of the accident scene while they are still fresh. Whether your lawyer negotiates a settlement or takes the case to trial, this evidence will be necessary to prove fault and support damages claims.
- Negotiation: Many car accident claims are settled before ever filing a lawsuit. Contacting a lawyer quickly after an accident gives the lawyer time to negotiate a settlement without worrying about a filing deadline.
- Financial pressure: You could be in a difficult financial situation after your car accident. You may have mounting medical expenses from your injuries, and you might be unable to work. The quicker you contact a lawyer, the quicker the lawyer can begin the claim process and work with the insurance company to collect compensation for you.
- Unavoidable delays: Mistakes and delays happen. Natural disasters, power outages, and even pandemics can delay the filing of a lawsuit. Although courts often try to accommodate unavoidable delays, not every delay is excusable. By acting quickly after an accident, you reduce the risk of an inadvertently late filing.
Keep in mind that merely contacting a lawyer before the statutory deadline is not enough to meet the deadline. The lawyer must file a lawsuit that contains the facts and legal allegations that support your personal injury claim. If you contact a lawyer right before the end of the two-year statute of limitations, the lawyer might not have time to prepare everything needed to meet the deadline.
On the other hand, you do not need to rush directly from the accident scene to a lawyer’s office. You should first seek medical diagnosis and treatment for any injuries you’ve received in the car accident. Your medical records will be essential to a lawyer evaluating your personal injury case.
Avoiding the Statute of Limitations in Texas
Texas law tries to accommodate most reasons for delayed lawsuits. However, rather than relying on an exception to the statute of limitations, the safest route to avoiding a dismissal is to meet with a lawyer quickly and authorize the lawyer to begin the claim process soon after your car accident.