Statutes of limitations determine how long you have to file a lawsuit (or other claim) against another driver. If you fail to file a suit or claim within the specified amount of time your suit can't be pursued and you lose the opportunity to make a claim. Check with your state and insurance company to find out their statutes of limitations.

For example, if you are injured in an automobile accident and the state law provides that personal injury lawsuits must be filed within two years of the date of the injury, you must file your lawsuit within two years of the date of the accident or lose forever the right to sue the responsible party.

If you want to file an insurance claim against your insurance company or the insurance company of the other driver, you should file this claim within the time limits stated in the insurance policy. States also have statutes of limitations for filing insurance claims. Check with your state insurance department to determine what those limits are.

Claiming No-Fault Benefits

No-fault insurance is a type of insurance that pays for injuries and damages for each person in the claim regardless of whose was actually at fault.

Generally, the injured party should obtain and file the required claim notice with the insurance company within the first 30 days after the accident. If the specific claim form is not available, file a written claim anyway and then obtain the specific form. If the accident created multiple sources for payment of benefits, for example, if the injured person had several insurance policies, file claims with every insurer.

The injured party should promptly notify the insurer, because shortened periods of time to respond under statutes of limitations are quite common in no-fault laws. The penalty for failure to submit a timely claim may mean the entire loss of benefits. Courts have also upheld the limitations provisions in statutes as genuine statutes of limitations, and not mere requirements for notice.

Recovery and the Monetary Threshold

If you can't obtain payment from the insurance carrier, you may want to file a personal injury lawsuit against the person who caused the accident. This is also called a tort. Traditionally, tort law says the limitations for filing a lawsuit begins from the time of the accident. However, some states won't let you file a lawsuit until the damages exceed a certain dollar amount. In this case, the date fhat the statute of limitations isn't as clear. Check with your state laws or find an attorney who will know what your state's laws are.

Uninsured Motorist Actions

Subrogation Rights of the Insurance Company and the Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Insurance companies may refuse to pay uninsured motorist benefits under a insurance policy if a lawsuit was not filed within the statute of limitations.

The courts, however, tend to disregard this defense by the insurance company and view the lawsuit as a breach of contract lawsuit. This changes the statute of limitations for bringing a suit against the insurance carrier to the statute of limitations for contract actions. In some states, an insured's action against the insurance company is considered to stem solely from the car accident, and thus the statute of limitations for tort actions will apply.

Additionally, in lawsuits dealing with uninsured motorist coverage, court decisions vary as to whether the use of the statute of limitations defense can be used by an insurance company or only by the uninsured motorist.

Substitution Rights of the Insurance Company and the Uninsured Motorist Coverage

If an insurance company compensates its insured client according to the law, it can be reimbursed through a lawsuit against the uninsured driver. The insurance company has substitution rights (aka subrogation rights) and therefore can be substituted as a party in the lawsuit, in the place of its insured client. The insurance company's right to substitute is subject to a statute of limitations, which starts to run when the company pays a claim to the insured under the uninsured motorist terms of the insurance policy.

Questions for Your Attorney:

  • My insurance company and state have different statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit, which one is correct?
  • I was involved in a hit-and-run accident, is there anyone I can sue? If so, how long do I have to do it?

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