Settling Your Personal Injury Claim FAQ

If you are injured in an accident, here are the first steps to take.

How soon do I need to notify people about my intention to file a claim for my accident injuries?

Unless you're filing a claim against a government agency or employee, you need not notify the people you think are responsible for your injuries within a set number of days after an accident. But that doesn't mean you should drag your feet. On the contrary, acting right away -- within a few days, if possible -- will increase your chances of receiving a quick and fair resolution to your claim.

Giving notice doesn't obligate you to file a claim; it simply preserves your rights and prevents others from later saying that your claim is unfair because you waited too long to tell them about your injuries. If you promptly notify others that you intend to file a claim for your injuries, you can then move at your own pace in processing and negotiating the claim with the insurance company or government agency that winds up taking responsibility.

For more information, including whom to notify and how to give notice, see the article Personal Injury Claims: Notifying Responsible Parties.

What is the deadline for filing an accident injury claim against a government entity?

If your accident might have been even partially caused by a government entity or employee -- the city, county, state, or federal government, or any public agency or division (a city bus or a school district, for example) -- you must file a formal claim within a short time after your accident. This period of time usually ranges between 30 days and one year, depending on your state. If you fail to file a claim within the time limit, or fail to include required information in your claim, you may forever lose your right to collect compensation.

To find the time limit for your state, call your city or county attorney's office and ask. Although they may be the ones defending against your claim if you file it, they are under a legal obligation to give you correct filing information.

You can also find a complete list of time limits, plus instructions on how to file a government claim, in How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).

Is there a deadline for filing a lawsuit to recover compensation for my injuries?

If you have no success reaching a settlement with an insurance company, you may be forced to consider bringing a lawsuit in small claims or other court. But you must be aware of the laws, called "statutes of limitations," that limit the time in which you have to file. If you miss your state's deadline, you will lose your right to recover compensation in court, and will be forced to abandon your claim altogether.

Check your state's laws to find the time limit that applies to your case. You can find a list of the statutes of limitations for all 50 states in the article Statutes of Limitations: Is It Too Late to Sue?

I've been hurt in an accident and I want to file a claim for my injuries. What's the first thing I should do?

There are a number of things you can do in the first few days and weeks after an accident to protect your right to compensation should you want to file an injury claim. Except for filing a formal claim against a government entity, there's no single step that you absolutely must take to obtain a fair settlement, and no set order in which you must proceed. However, the more of the following suggestions you can follow, the more smoothly your claim process is likely to flow.

  • Write down as much as you can about the accident itself, your injuries, and any other losses (such as wages) you've suffered as a result of the accident.
  • Make notes of conversations that you have with people involved in the accident or the injury claim. (For more details on what notes to take, see the article Take Notes After an Accident or Injury.)
  • Preserve evidence of who caused the accident and what damage was done by collecting physical evidence and taking photographs. (For tips on what evidence to collect, see the article Personal Injury Accidents: Preserve Evidence.)
  • Locate people who witnessed the accident and who might be able to help you prove your case (for information on how to locate witnesses, see the article Personal Injury Accidents: Preserve Evidence), and
  • Notify anyone you think might be responsible for the accident of your intention to file a claim for your injuries. (For more information, see the article Personal Injury Claims: Notifying Responsible Parties.)

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