How Long After a Car Accident Can You Sue?

Under Pennsylvania insurance laws, there are certain restrictions on car accident lawsuits. One of them deals with how long you have to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. The first step will be to determine if you have the right to sue the at-fault driver for certain damages. The next step would be calculating the statute of limitations for the lawsuit.

When Can Accident Victims Sue Other Drivers in Pennsylvania for Damages?

The minimum requirements for car insurance in Pennsylvania are:

  • Medical Benefits – $5,000 minimum limit
  • Bodily Injury Liability – $15,000 minimum limit for injury to one person ($30,00 minimum limit per accident)
  • Property Damage Liability – $5,000 minimum limit

Drivers can purchase higher limits to provide additional protection. Medical benefits are a form of no-fault insurance. It pays benefits to the covered individuals regardless of who caused the accident. 

Individuals may choose from a full tort insurance policy or a limited tort insurance policy. Under both policies, you can sue the other driver for damages. 

However, if you have a limited tort policy, you can only sue for economic damages. In other words, you cannot sue the other driver for non-economic or “pain and suffering” damages unless your injuries meet one of the exceptions for serious injuries. 

Under a full tort policy, you are not restricted in your ability to sue the other driver for damages. You can sue for monetary losses, pain and suffering, and other damages caused by the car crash.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents in Pennsylvania?

A statute of limitations is a deadline for filing an action against another party. If the statute of limitations has passed, you cannot file a lawsuit. If you file a lawsuit, the other party can request that the court dismiss the lawsuit on statutory grounds.

For most car accident claims, the statute of limitations is two years from the car accident date. Similarly, if you are filing a wrongful death lawsuit because of a traffic fatality, the time to file the lawsuit is two years from the date of death.

There are some exceptions to the general statute of limitations. 

For example, if a government vehicle or employee is involved in the accident, the deadline to file a notice claim with the government entity could be as short as a few months. Failing to file the notice of claim could impact your right to file a lawsuit. Also, the deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit could be different if the victim was a minor or an individual with mental incapacity. 

It is always best to speak with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible after the car crash. The lawyer can calculate the deadline for filing lawsuits based on the facts of your case. Having a lawyer calculate and track the statute of limitations ensures that you do not miss a deadline and lose your right to pursue the claim in court.

Why Do We Have Statutes of Limitations?

There are several reasons why states enact statutes of limitations. One reason is to protect parties from lawsuits being filed years after the accident occurred. 

Evidence can be lost or destroyed, which would be essential for defending a lawsuit. For example, eyewitnesses may forget key details about the accident, or it could be impossible to locate them. In some cases, the witnesses could pass away if the plaintiff waited five or ten years to file a lawsuit.

Setting a deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit helps ensure that all parties receive a fair trial.

Another reason for setting deadlines for filing lawsuits is to keep matters moving through the court in a timely manner. When people have deadlines for filing lawsuits, it helps keep the court from being overloaded with cases. The deadline encourages accident victims to consult with a lawyer to get a lawsuit filed promptly.

Most Car Accident Cases Settle Without Filing a Lawsuit

Most personal injury claims settle outside of court between the parties, including claims related to car wrecks. The accident victim files an insurance claim with the at-fault driver’s liability insurance provider. The parties negotiate a settlement of the claim.

The reasons that car accident cases go to court instead of settling include:

  • The other driver disputes liability for causing the accident
  • The insurance company refuses to pay full value for the victim’s damages
  • The victim sustained catastrophic injuries or permanent impairments 
  • The insurance company alleges the victim is partially to blame for the cause of the accident 
  • There could be several parties involved who are arguing about individual liability for damages

If you have questions about a car accident claim, talk with a personal injury lawyer. Make sure that you understand what to do after a car accident, know your legal rights, and understand the value of your injury claim before you talk to an insurance adjuster.