After any kind of traffic accident, you're likely wondering whether you're in a good position to make a claim for injuries, vehicle damage, and other losses. Figuring out whether or not you have a viable path to a monetary recovery starts with understanding the kinds of issues that often make or break a car accident case.
If your car accident happened a few weeks or a few months ago, your right to go to court and file a lawsuit over the crash isn't going to be an issue. But if a year or more has passed since the crash, it's important to figure out how your state's statute of limitations applies to your potential claim. These laws set firm time limits on your right to file a lawsuit. In most states the deadline is 2 years or 3 years from the date of the accident, but a few states follow a 1-year time limit. Miss the filing deadline, and your right to take your case to court is lost for good, unless a rare exception applies to extend the time limit.
Most car accident cases settle out of court, often without a lawsuit ever being filed. But if you've lost the option of filing a lawsuit, and the other side (the at-fault driver's insurance company, for example) knows that, you've also lost almost all your negotiation leverage when it's time to talk settlement. Learn more about how the statute of limitations works in personal injury cases.
This is a crucial question, but getting a definitive answer is rarely easy (except in rear-end accident cases). Insurance companies and attorneys typically look first at any police report generated after the accident, and then to the statements of any locatable witnesses who are willing to help. Accident scene photos, the nature and extent of vehicle damage, and even area surveillance video can all come into play. When the fault story can't be pieced together with much more than the conflicting accounts of the drivers involved in the crash, a car accident claim is still possible, but there are certain to be challenges. Get details on proving fault for a car accident.
If you were involved in a car accident but walked away without any injuries, consider yourself lucky (while keeping in mind that car accident injuries don't always show up right away). If the insurance company comes to the table with a settlement offer that covers your vehicle damage and any inconvenience you've experienced, it probably isn't worth your (or a lawyer's) time and effort to pursue the matter.
But if your car accident left you with serious injuries (like a head injury, a broken bone, or any injury that keeps you from going back to work), and you want reimbursement for medical expenses if nothing else, that adds to economic losses and other categories of harm, including "pain and suffering." If you're in this situation, it probably makes sense to talk with an attorney about your legal options. Learn more about car accident injuries and how "pain and suffering" works in a car accident case.
On the vehicle damage side, your car emerging from the accident with just a small dent or two paints a very different picture than if the vehicle was deemed a total loss. Significant vehicle damage often correlates with significant injuries, and can lead an insurance company (or a lawyer) to take your claim more seriously.
No matter the specifics of your car accident, one of the most important factors in assessing the viability of a claim is whether there's an insurance policy in place that would cover your losses. Is the at-fault driver insured? Does that policy include enough coverage to pay for your medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and other harm resulting from the crash? If so, your case might stand a better chance of success.
On the other hand, it might be obvious that the other driver was at fault, and if you take the case to court you might stand a great chance of winning, but if that driver is uninsured, collecting any money is going to be an uphill battle. Learn more about the role of insurance in a car accident case.
If your injuries are minimal and the other side is offering a fair settlement, it's possible to handle a car accident claim yourself. But if your injuries are anything more than minor, or the process looks like it might get contentious (as it often does), it makes sense to discuss your situation with an attorney. That way you can ensure that your rights are protected and get the most out of your case. In fact, our survey of readers with personal injury claims showed that those who hired lawyers typically received about three times as much compensation as unrepresented readers (even after deducting the lawyers' fees from the settlements or awards). Learn how an attorney can help with a car accident claim.