Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. While there is a general statute of limitations for personal injury claims, there are many case-specific exceptions to the general rule. Thus, if you have been hurt in a wreck or lost a loved one in a fatal crash, it is imperative that you take swift action to protect your legal rights.
The Statute of Limitations – and Important Exceptions Thereto
The amount of time that a would-be car accident litigant has to file a claim varies depending upon the law of the state where the crash occurred. In Texas, a plaintiff generally has two years to file suit against the party whose negligence caused a motor vehicle accident. Depending upon the facts giving rise to the accident, however, it may be necessary for the plaintiff to make a claim much sooner than two years in order to maximize the value of his or her case and avoid the possibility of a dismissal of some (or even all) of his or her claims.
For example, if the defendant in the case is a governmental entity or governmental employee, the injured person must file a timely notice of claim within a much shorter period of time; notably, this is a separate document from the complaint filed in court to initiate a lawsuit. Because of the notice requirements of the Texas Tort Claims Act, a governmental unit is to receive notice of a claim within six months of an accident or, in some cities and counties, even sooner. A failure to provide timely notice can be just as fatal to a plaintiff’s case as missing the statute of limitations.
Another tricky situation can arise when a product defect in an automobile caused or contributed to injuries suffered by the plaintiff in a car accident. Since the Texas statute of repose places an outer limit of 15 years on the filing of a product liability claim, it is possible that a claim against a vehicle manufacturer may run before the expiration of the general statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim. With the average age of a car in the United States at an all-time high of approximately 11.5 years, this situation is increasingly likely to occur.
Other Risks of Not Consulting an Attorney Soon After an Accident
Not only can waiting too long to talk to an attorney about a car accident case result in the possible dismissal of a claim on procedural grounds related to timeliness, but also a delay in taking legal action can devalue a case in other ways. Witnesses can change their story after being contacted by the other party’s insurance company. Physical evidence such as skid marks can disappear, and accident scenes can change so much that it is no longer possible to obtain photographs to aid the jury in understanding how the crash happened. Vehicles can even be destroyed or recycled, taking with them any possibility of obtaining valuable information from an on-board event data recorder.
Talk to a Lawyer Sooner, Rather than Later
If you’re been hurt in a wreck or lost a family member in a fatal crash, the time to talk to an attorney is now. Experienced east Texas auto accident attorney Earl Drott is board certified in personal injury law, and he has been representing injured people for three decades. Call us at 903-531-9300 to find out more about getting started on holding the party who hurt you liable for your injuries or your loved one’s wrongful death.
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