If you are hurt in a motor vehicle accident, your first priority will likely be getting medical treatment. Recovering from the emotional and physical trauma of a crash is incredibly important. However, if your accident was caused by another person, it is also vital that you take action to protect your legal rights.
The statute of limitations for personal injury claims in New York is 3 years. With some exceptions, this means that you have to file a lawsuit for a car accident or similar claim within 3 years from the date of the collision. Contacting a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after your wreck can help to ensure that your legal rights are protected.
The Odierno Law Firm is dedicated to fighting for the rights of accident victims. We offer free initial consultations and handle all claims on a contingency fee basis. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, reach out to our law offices today.
What Is the Statute of Limitations?
The statute of limitations is a legal concept that essentially puts a time limit on the filing of a lawsuit. There are statutes of limitations for both civil and criminal cases. For example, if you are charged with burglary, then the state has either 2 or 5 years to file a case against you.
At its core, the statute of limitations is about fairness. Whether the legal action is civil or criminal in nature, it is often considered unfair to bring a claim or charges many years after the incident occurred. Over time, witness memories may fade and relevant evidence may be lost, which can make it hard for the person being sued or charged with a crime (the defendant) to put together a defense.
For example, if someone you did business with over a decade ago wants to bring a breach of contract claim against you, it would be really difficult or even impossible for you to defend yourself against this type of lawsuit. You may not still have the paperwork, such as the contract itself or other documents like invoices, to demonstrate that you did fulfill the terms of the contract. This is why breach of contract actions in New York must be brought within 6 years.
Similarly, most (but not all) crimes have a statute of limitations. This is important because it may be incredibly difficult to defend yourself against a charge after a significant amount of time has passed. An alibi witness may have died, video evidence may have been destroyed, and you may not even remember exactly what you were doing on the day in question.
For most personal injury cases in New York – such as car accidents – the statute of limitations is 3 years. There is a 2.5-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases and a 2-year statute of limitations for wrongful death claims. The statute of limitations starts to run on the day that the accident or injury occurred, or (for medical malpractice cases) when the person knew or should have known of the injury.
The statute of limitations isn’t just a suggestion. If you don’t file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations, you likely won’t be able to file a claim. The at-fault party and their insurance company can have the case dismissed based on the statute of limitations, which can leave you without any way to recover financial compensation for your injuries. For this reason, it is incredibly important that you reach out to a New York car accident lawyer as soon as possible after being hurt in an accident.
This outcome may seem harsh, but it is designed to achieve the ultimate goal of fairness. Just like a defendant in a criminal case may not be able to put together a defense to a charge after too much time has passed, the same goes for a defendant in a personal injury case. Understanding that the statute of limitations exists is the first step in protecting your rights as an injury victim.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations in New York?
There are some key exceptions to the statute of limitations. Each of these exceptions recognizes the fact that a person might not be able to pursue a claim immediately – and so fairness dictates that they not be held to the strict 3-year statute of limitations. If you fall within one of these exceptions, then you may have a longer period of time in which you can file a lawsuit.
First, if an accident victim is a minor (under the age of 18) at the time of the crash, then they have 3 years from the date that they turn 18 to file a lawsuit. In other words, they have until they turn 21 to bring a claim.
This exception is based on the reality that a child does not have the legal capacity to bring a lawsuit for themselves. While a parent or guardian may bring a claim on their behalf, this exception protects their rights in the event that does not happen. It also recognizes that it may be difficult to determine the extent of a child’s injuries until they are much older.
Second, if a person is incompetent at the time of the accident, then the statute of limitation is tolled (paused) until they are legally competent. Incompetence may be due to a mental disability or a condition like dementia. Because a person may not ever be declared legally competent, a person with power of attorney or guardianship may also file a lawsuit on their behalf.
Third, if the at-fault driver leaves the state for a period of time longer than 4 months before you have the opportunity to file a personal injury lawsuit, then the statute of limitations will be tolled for that amount of time. This is because the plaintiff (injury victim) may not be able to find or serve the defendant with the lawsuit when they are out of state. Once the defendant returns to New York, then the statute of limitations will start running again.
When Should I Contact a Car Accident Attorney?
Immediately after a car accident, your thoughts and your time are rightfully focused on your emotional and physical recovery. The last thing on your mind might be filing a lawsuit. You may have even been approached by an insurance adjuster, and they may have even told you that they accept liability and there is no rush to file a claim.
In this situation, you may not think that there is a reason to talk to a lawyer. However, the reality is that insurance companies are not on your side. Their goal is to resolve claims for as little money as possible. If they can get rid of a case entirely based on the statute of limitations, that is all the better for their bottom line.
3 years may seem like a long time. However, in those months and years following an accident, you may lose a chance to build a strong case for compensation. You may drop your phone in water, and lose photos and videos of the accident scene in the process. A key witness may move away. You may even misplace important documents, like estimates or bills for repairs to your vehicle.
Reaching out to a lawyer as soon as possible can reduce the likelihood that your case will be dismissed due to the statute of limitations. It is also a good way to ensure that your claim is as strong as possible. Remember: the insurance company has its own team of lawyers and adjusters to gather evidence and fight back against your claim. Shouldn’t you have someone on your side to protect your rights?
If you have been hurt in a motor vehicle accident, then you should make contacting a car accident lawyer a priority. Initial consultations are free of charge and can be a great way to learn more about your rights and your options for pursuing a claim.
Contact The Odierno Law Firm Today
After a car accident, filing a lawsuit might be the last thing on your mind. However, it is important to understand that there are time limits on pursuing legal action. Our law firm is here for you.
Based in Melville, The Odierno Law Firm represents accident victims throughout Long Island and New York City. We offer free initial consultations and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule an appointment with a New York personal injury attorney, give our law offices a call at 631-933-1304 or fill out our online contact form.
Is There a Different Statute of Limitations for Claims Against a Government Agency?
Yes. There are specific procedures that must be followed for filing a claim against a government entity, such as if you are involved in a bus accident with a city bus. Typically, you will be required to file a notice of claim within a much shorter time period. In New York City, a notice of claim must be filed within 90 days of the incident.
Because the process of filing a personal injury claim against a government agency in New York is so different, it is important to work with a car accident lawyer who is familiar with these types of cases. In Long Island and New York City, contact The Odierno Law Firm to schedule a free consultation.
Will a Court Really Dismiss My Claim If I Miss the Statute of Limitations?
Yes. If the insurance company files a motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, then the court will likely grant it unless an exception applies. The ultimate consequence is that you won’t be able to seek compensation for your injuries if you don’t file a lawsuit in a timely manner.
The Odierno Law Firm will work with you to ensure that you meet all applicable deadlines. Reach out to our law offices today to schedule a free initial consultation with a Long Island car accident lawyer.