Whether your accident occurred a week ago or a year ago, the day it happened is likely a blur. Perhaps you didn’t feel hurt at the time or were worried about affording the expense of unexpected medical treatment. Whatever the reason, you left the scene of the accident, went home, and began to realize at some later point that you were hurt. Is there a time limit on how long after a car accident you can claim injury? Here is a look at how to navigate delayed medical treatment, a car accident claim timeline, and the legal deadline for filing a personal injury claim. A car accident attorney can guide you to file a claim.
The Statute of Limitations
Many deadlines exist regarding how long you have to file a personal injury claim after a car accident occurs. However, while some of these deadlines are important (and we will discuss them below), the statute of limitations is the overarching deadline that should guide your legal claims process.
The statute of limitations refers to the maximum time that parties in a legal dispute have to file a claim in court. The specific time allowed varies from state to state and depends on the type of dispute that is taking place.
For example, the personal injury statute of limitations in states around the northeast region of the U.S. include:
- Three years from the accident for car accident claims in New York.
- Car accident claimants in New Jersey have two years from the injury to file a lawsuit in court.
- Those injured by another driver’s negligence in Massachusetts typically have three years to file a lawsuit.
- Two years is the amount of time available for personal injury claimants in Connecticut to file a lawsuit.
- In Maine, plaintiffs must file most personal injury lawsuits within six years of the injury.
In some cases such as those involving injuries to a minor or injuries that hinder the claimant’s ability to respond it is possible to have an extension on time needed to file the claim. Asking your attorney how long you have to file is extremely important to determine the statute of limitations for your specific circumstance.
What Happens If the Deadline Expires?
Allowing the statute of limitations on your claim to expire without filing a lawsuit affects your ability to receive the compensation you need. Most of the time, if the statute of limitations expires, the court will bar the claimant from using the court process to seek compensation.
Additionally, the insurance company is unlikely to engage in settlement discussions on expired claims because they no longer have a financial interest to do so. In other words: if the statute of limitations expires, you likely forgo compensation.
Insurance companies must adhere to certain deadlines during the claims process, often set by state laws. Most states require them to acknowledge the claim within days or weeks.
Progressive explains that an insurance company generally has 30 days to investigate a claim and requires the insurance company to process payments on accepted claims as soon as possible. Several factors can cause an insurance company to take longer than expected to settle, particularly if the injuries sustained by the claimant are serious or the accident requires extensive investigation.
Insurance companies impose deadlines on their claimants, as well. After the accident, you are generally required to report the accident as soon as possible with your insurance provider. However, other deadlines that the insurance company can impose—particularly those involving how long you have to consider a settlement offer—may cause the claimant to make a quick decision under the fear of losing their opportunity for any compensation. Be sure to consult with lawyer regarding any deadlines set by the insurance company, as they may not be legally required.
Is There Anything That Can Be Done to Speed Up the Process?
Hiring an experienced car accident attorney is a good way to reduce the time it takes to resolve your claim and increase the likelihood of receiving fair compensation for your injuries.
Some ways an attorney helps protect the value of your claim and helps it resolve as quickly as possible include:
- Attorneys have professional legal teams that know what type of evidence is needed to prove liability in an accident and the sort of documentation used to justify the claim’s value. They know how to obtain these documents quickly and efficiently, meaning the insurance company will have the information they need to evaluate the claim faster.
- A car accident lawyer is aware of the deadlines in your case. They can distinguish between mandatory and arbitrary deadline in settlement discussions and protect your from insurance company intimidation.
- An attorney knows how to value the claim properly to ensure that the claimant has enough compensation to cover the expenses and impacts of their injury and how to negotiate with the insurance provider to get a settlement offer as close to that value as possible. They also can guide their client so that the claimant understands how their claim was valued and what “fair compensation” means for their case.
- A lawyer understands the court process, how filing a lawsuit can help garner more serious settlement discussions with the insurer, and how to use the process to obtain a verdict from a judge or jury in their client’s favor.
- A lawyer uses a contingent fee billing method, and many health care providers use medical liens to allow a claimant to obtain services and medical treatment before receiving their settlement or court award. When the claim is compensated, the attorney’s fees and these medical liens are taken from the overall value of the award.
Will Delayed Medical Treatment Harm Your Case?
When an accident occurs, and someone is injured, it isn’t always immediately apparent at the scene. Around 20-50 million Americans sustain injuries in car accidents yearly.
According to the Endocrine Society, when a person is involved in an extremely intense, frightening situation such as a car accident, their body immediately begins producing adrenaline to trigger a self-preserving fight-or-flight response.
This response causes the blood vessels to contract to pump blood to major muscle groups, such as the heart and the lungs. The person often experiences a rush of strength and performance, heightened awareness, and a decrease in the body’s ability to feel pain. The effects of adrenaline after a car accident can take hours to wear off. Sometimes you don’t know you are injured.
Other issues can also cause a person to delay medical treatment, such as not having health insurance and being unable to afford the cost of treatment. Many injured parties can deny the seriousness of their injury and decide to tough it out at home. Some people injured in car accidents don’t seek treatment immediately because they’re unsure of how to obtain the treatment they need.
Often, an injured person will seek treatment from their primary care doctor, who may be ill-prepared to treat such injuries and unable to schedule an appointment to see the patient immediately.
To be sure, delaying medical treatment for injuries sustained in a car accident will complicate your claim. Any delay in treatment will generally cause the insurance provider you’re seeking compensation from to question whether the accident was the cause of your injury or will make them doubt whether the injury was as serious as you stated.
However, delayed treatment is better than no treatment. As long as the statute of limitations has not expired on your claim, obtaining a medical diagnosis and treatment of lingering injuries is still important.
Where to Seek the Medical Treatment You Need
As noted, your primary care provider is not usually the best option for obtaining initial treatment after the accident.
However, they may be a good resource for finding a specialist to treat the specific types of injuries you incurred, such as:
- Whiplash is an injury involving the neck’s soft tissues, such as the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage, caused by a sudden back-and-forth head motion during various types of accidents. Whiplash is most commonly associated with rear-end accidents.
- Soft tissue damage, like muscle strains and sprains, is commonly experienced in the back and other body parts.
- Broken bones, which can occur in any part of the body in a severe collision, are common in areas where the seat belt’s shoulder harness rests, such as the clavicle (collar bone) or the ribs.
- Spinal injuries involve trauma to the vertebrae or discs.
- Head injuries include facial lacerations, eye damage, or even traumatic brain injuries.
While most of these injuries can immediately be evaluated and treated at your nearest hospital emergency room or urgent care facility, follow-up treatments for serious injuries will likely be provided by a medical specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon, a neurologist, or a neurosurgeon.
If might seek compensation through the personal injury claims process, it is important to choose a physician who is knowledgeable about the injury claim process, willing to communicate with you and your lawyer about your injury, and specializes in injuries like the one you sustained.
Having the Assistance of an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Can Help Your Delayed Claim
Nearly any type of car accident claim is difficult to prove without the assistance of an experienced car accident lawyer on your side, simply due to the tactics that insurance companies use to devalue claims, the difficulty in knowing the types of evidence needed to prove the claim, how to obtain that evidence, and how to potentially navigate the court process. However, this is even more true if your case involves delayed treatment for an injury.
Your attorney must establish a link between your injury and the accident and answer on your behalf why you didn’t seek treatment earlier. These are usually manageable issues, but they require additional expertise and strategies.
In addition to handling the presentation of your delayed injuries and answering the insurance provider’s questions, your attorney can provide other services. In many cases, they help you find a medical provider who will agree to payment through a medical lien placed on your settlement rather than an upfront payment.
They will value your claim based on your injury’s severity, insurance resources’ availability, and other factors. They will communicate with the insurance provider about your claim and gather the evidence needed to show that the accident was the cause of your injury. They will also ensure that you meet the personal injury statute of limitations to protect your right to seek compensation.
If a car accident injures you, and you have questions about the personal injury claims process, contact a personal injury lawyer to learn more about your options for seeking compensation.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.