David M. Sargent
Auto Accident: What You Need to Know about Statute of Limitations
Getting into an auto accident can be quite a harrowing ordeal for everyone involved. It’s one of those things that forces your life to grind to a halt for a period of time, even in situations where you come out of the accident relatively unscathed. When the accident is really bad, it can upend your life in multiple ways. Regardless of the severity of an accident, however, you need to keep in mind that any legal action that you decide to take has a clock on it. That’s because, like most things in the legal world, auto accidents have a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is the law that says how long a person has to file a lawsuit against the defendant(s).
Different from Other Personal Injury Claims
In Colorado, the statute of limitations for most bodily injury claims, like a slip and fall or dog bite, is two years following the accident. But, in Colorado, lawmakers lengthened the deadline to three years for covers auto accidents. This includes lawsuits for auto accidents causing personal injury, damage to a person’s vehicle, or both. As for when the clock starts ticking, lawsuits for auto accidents must generally be made three years from the date of the accident.
Wrongful Death Claims
Even though there is a separate statute of limitations for injuries and damage resulting from auto accidents, a wrongful death that stems from such an accident does not fall under the three-year deadline for filing a lawsuit. Instead, wrongful death claims are covered under a different statute of limitations, which requires any lawsuit to be filed within two years from the date of death.
Statute of Limitations vs. Car Insurance Claim
Many people involved in an auto accident make the mistake of confusing the filing of a lawsuit with the reporting of a claim to an auto insurance carrier. Just because you have made a claim against the other driver’s auto insurance does not relieve you of the deadline to file a lawsuit against the other driver within three years from the date of the accident. The other driver’s insurance company will be happy to string you along and delay any meaningful negotiations to resolve your case if they think there’s a chance that you are not going to file a lawsuit in time.
Auto Accident Claims Involving Governmental Agencies
In addition to the three-year deadline to file a lawsuit in auto accident cases, when a governmental agency causes the auto accident, or any other accident for that matter, Colorado law also requires that the claimant or injured party deliver a very specific written notice of the claim to the governmental agency within 182 days of the incident. If that notice is not properly delivered, then a later lawsuit against the governmental agency, even if filed before the deadline in the statute of limitations, will be dismissed.
Filing After the Statute of Limitations Has Passed
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that many people have attempted to file a lawsuit concerning an auto accident after the three-year statute of limitations has passed. The problem with this is probably pretty obvious, but we’re going to say it anyway – it usually doesn’t work. If you attempt to file after the time has passed, all a person has to do is inform the judge that the statute of limitations has expired and the case will probably be dismissed. In some instances, an injured party is allowed more than three years to file a lawsuit, like when a minor is injured in an auto accident, but those exceptions to the statute of limitations are rare.
The Importance of Hiring an Attorney
Following an auto accident, it is always recommended that you hire an attorney as soon as you possibly can. Even though you have three years to file a lawsuit, the sooner you have someone who knows the law on your side, the more likely it is that you’ll get a favorable outcome. This also gives your attorney more time to collect evidence and negotiate a settlement — maybe even before a lawsuit has to be filed. If you wait until the last minute, then you will lose out on the benefits that come from having an attorney who is an expert in personal injury law advise you every stop of the way.
It is essential that you are always aware of the statute of limitations