The Statute of Limitations for Auto Accident Lawsuits

If I’m in a car accident, how long do I have to sue the other driver?

Generally, if you are over the age of 18 at the time of the accident, in Virginia you have two years from the date of the accident to file a claim for personal injury and five years from the date of the accident to file a claim for property damage.  This time limitation is called the “statute of limitations.”

How long should I wait before contacting an attorney about representing me after I have been in a car accident?

Although you have two years to file a lawsuit for a claim for personal injury and five years for a claim for property damage, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.  The purpose of the statute of limitations is to require the filing of lawsuits during a time period in which the parties can reasonably be expected to gather the evidence to present their claim or defend against the claim.  The law recognizes that evidence can go missing or become stale, and witnesses’ memories may fade.  It is important for your attorney to know about your claim as soon as possible so that your attorney can assemble the proof that will be necessary for the lawsuit and a claim.  It is easier to identify witnesses, locate those witnesses and take statements from them immediately after an accident.  Physical evidence can disappear quickly.  Your attorney may need to take photographs of the accident scene and the vehicles involved.  Cars may be repaired or, if they cannot be repaired, scrapped.  Accident scenes are cleaned by local authorities.  And, in some instances, the accident scene may be altered by new construction.  Although you have time to file a lawsuit, you should not delay in contacting a lawyer to obtain prompt legal assistance.

In addition, the sooner you see an attorney, the quicker the attorney can help you with the many issues you will face as an accident victim.  The attorney can help you with the handling of medical expenses, loss of income and property damage.  The most important thing for victims of car accidents, however, is to follow medical advice to recover as quickly as possible.

Your attorney will be interested to find out if the driver of the other car was given a traffic citation as a result of the accident.  It is important for your attorney to learn about any traffic ticket and to monitor what happens to the traffic ticket.  At times, valuable evidence can be obtained during the traffic proceeding.  If you wait to see an attorney, the traffic ticket may be resolved and that evidence may be lost.  Sometimes, the victim of the accident is given the traffic ticket.  A lawyer can help with that traffic ticket and help you avoid making statements in the traffic proceeding that could be held against you on your claim for personal injury or property damage.

Does the statute of limitations begin to run on the date I find out I was hurt?

In Virginia, the answer to this question is almost always “no.”  Your claim for personal injury starts when the injury actually occurs; not when you learn that you are injured.  For example, you may not think you have any injuries immediately after an accident.  But if you later have symptoms that your doctor believes are related to the accident, you only have two years from the date of the accident to file suit.  You do not have two years from the date you first learned from your doctor that your symptoms were related to the accident.  Your lawyer can help you determine what injuries you sustained in the car accident by working with your health care providers.  The sooner you see an attorney, the quicker your attorney can help you.

What if someone is killed in an accident?

If your loved one is hurt in an accident and dies as a result of those injuries, then a wrongful death action may be brought within two years of the date of death.  But as with all legal matters, there are qualifications to this rule and, again, the best thing you can do is to see an attorney as soon as practical after an accident.  Wrongful death actions are complicated and need the attention of a lawyer.

What if my minor child is injured in an accident?

If a minor (a person under the age of 18) is hurt in a car accident, there usually are two claims.  First, the minor can recover for pain and suffering, permanent injury and impairment of earning capacity after attaining majority.  The minor has two years after reaching the age of 18 in which to bring this claim.  The other claim is on behalf of the parents for loss of services during the child’s minority and necessary expenses incurred for the minor’s treatment.  In cases that arose from accidents that occurred before July 1, 2013, these claims had to be brought within five years.  Our legislature passed a law effective July 1, 2013 that now allows these lawsuits to be brought within the same statute of limitations applicable to the minor’s case.  This means that the parents can bring this lawsuit within two years after the minor reaches the age of 18.  But if the minor is emancipated before the age of 18, the rule may be different.  Again, this is a situation that requires the attention of an attorney.

SUMMARY:

Although generally an adult who is injured in a car accident has two years from the date of the accident in which to file a suit for personal injury, there are circumstances and conditions in which this may not be correct in a specific case.  You need to consult with an attorney.  The earlier you obtain help from an attorney, the better your attorney will be able to help you.