If you've been injured after any kind of traffic accident in Alaska, or just incurred damage to your vehicle, you probably want to understand your options for getting compensated for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few Alaska laws that could have a big impact on your case, including lawsuit-filing deadlines and the state's rules when it comes to shared fault for an accident.
A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on the right to bring a lawsuit. These deadlines vary depending on the kind of harm you suffered and/or the kind of case you want to file.
(Note: the statute of limitations applies to car accident lawsuits, but it does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim -- or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim -- "promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)
Alaska Statutes section .09.10.070 gives anyone who has been injured in a car accident -- that includes a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, or pedestrian -- two years to get their lawsuit filed in the state’s civil court system.
The same two-year time limit also applies to vehicle damage claims after a car accident, as well as situations where a car accident causes someone’s death, and the family of the deceased person wants to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
The two-year "clock" starts running on the date the injury occurs for purposes of Alaska’s statute of limitations -- that means the day the car accident itself occurred.
The next logical question is, what happens if you don’t get your lawsuit started before the deadline passes? If you try to file the initial complaint (the document that starts the case) more than two years after the accident, you can count on the court refusing to consider it, unless a rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline. That’s why it’s so crucial to understand the statute of limitations and abide by the time limit as it applies to your situation.
Keep in mind that not every car accident will lead to a lawsuit. But even if you think your situation will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, it’s a good idea to keep all of your options open. Leave yourself plenty of time to get a car accident lawsuit filed in Alaska’s court system, and talk to an experienced lawyer if you think you might be running up against the two-year deadline.
If the other driver was entirely at fault for your car accident, the result is usually predictable: the other driver (through their insurance carrier) will pay to compensate you for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses you suffered. But what happens if you were partly at fault for the crash?
Alaska follows a "pure comparative fault" rule when both parties are found to share blame for an accident. In most car accident cases, the jury is asked to calculate two things based on the evidence: the total dollar amount of the plaintiff's damages, and the percentage of fault that belongs to each party. Under the pure comparative fault rule, the plaintiff's damages award is reduced by a percentage equal to his or her share of fault.
For instance, suppose that in your case, the jury decides your total damages award should be $100,000 (including your medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and "pain and suffering"). But the jury also decides you are 40 percent responsible for the accident (maybe you were speeding). Under Alaska’s comparative fault rule, you are entitled to get 60 percent of the $100,000 total, or $60,000 -- still a significant sum, but not as much as the grand total of your damages.
The comparative fault rule in Alaska applies even if you are found to be more responsible for the accident than the other driver. For instance, if the jury decides you are 90 percent at fault, you are still technically entitled to 10 percent of your total damages, but of course the other side of the coin is that you'll be on the hook for 90 percent of the other driver's damages.
(Not all states treat comparative fault this way. Most follow a "modified" comparative fault rule that only allows the plaintiff to receive damages if his or her fault was 50 percent or less. Once the plaintiff’s fault exceeds 50 percent, the damages award drops to zero in most of these states.)
Not only does the comparative negligence rule bind Alaska judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, after all. But don't let that prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to an attorney about your situation and your best course of action.
Car insurance is certain to play a part in any claim that's made after a car accident. Alaska, under the state's "Mandatory Insurance Statutes", requires the owner of a motor vehicle to maintain a certain amount of insurance coverage in order to operate the vehicle legally on the state's roads and highways. So, understanding the Alaska auto insurance rules is essential to any potential car accident case.