Idaho Car Accident Laws

Time limits for filing an Idaho car accident lawsuit, the state's rules when more than one driver is at fault for a crash, and more.

After a traffic accident in Idaho, if you've been injured and/or incurred significant vehicle damage, you might want to consider your options for holding the at-fault driver financially responsible for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few Idaho laws that could have a big impact on your case.

The Idaho Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that puts a strictly-enforced time limit on a potential plaintiff’s right to bring a lawsuit. These deadlines vary based on the kind of harm you suffered and/or the kind of case you want to file.

(Note: the statute of limitations 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.)

In Idaho, as in most states, the statute of limitations that applies to car accident injury lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to all personal injury cases where one person’s negligence is said to have caused injury to another. Specifically, Idaho Statutes section 5-219 gives you two years to ask the Idaho civil courts for a remedy for any kind of personal injury caused by someone else. So, any injury lawsuit by a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian after a vehicle accident will be subject to this two-year filing deadline, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.

That same statute also governs any wrongful death lawsuit that might be filed by a family member or a representative of the estate of anyone who was killed as a result of the car accident. For these wrongful death claims, the two-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident victim’s death (which might be later than the accident date).

Finally, if you had your vehicle or other personal property damaged as a result of the car accident, any lawsuit over the damage must be filed within three years of the date of the accident, and that time limit is set by Idaho Statutes section 5-218.

Having read all this, you may be wondering what happens if the statute of limitations deadline has passed, and you try to file your car accident lawsuit anyway. In that situation, the defendant (that’s the person you’re trying to sue) will point out the passage of the deadline in a motion to dismiss, and any Idaho court will almost certainly grant the dismissal (unless some rare exception acts to extend the deadline). That’s why it’s crucial to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your situation.

Finally, from a strategic standpoint, it’s always a good idea to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit, even if you think your case will be resolved through a car insurance settlement. Keeping all your options on the table will give you more leverage during settlement talks. So if the statute of limitations filing deadline is close, it may be time to talk with an experienced Idaho car accident attorney.

Comparative Negligence in Idaho Car Accident Cases

"Comparative fault" refers to a situation where more than one party is at least partially at fault for an accident. States follow different approaches in this scenario.

Idaho Statutes section 6-801 says that, in a personal injury lawsuit, you can recover against any other at-fault party, but your damages (your financial recovery) will be reduced by a percentage that corresponds to your share of liability. And you will not be able to recover anything at all if your share of fault for the accident amounts to 50 percent or more in comparison with the person you're trying to sue. This makes Idaho a "modified comparative negligence" state.

To see how this rule plays out in real life, we’ll take a look at an example. Let’s say you're driving a few miles-per-hour over the speed limit when another driver suddenly makes a left turn in front of you. Without enough time to stop, you collide with the other car. The other driver is found to be 80 percent at fault, but since you were speeding, the jury (or adjuster) figures that you were 20 percent at fault for the accident. If you would otherwise be entitled to a $10,000 award or settlement, it would be reduced to $8,000 based on your 20-percent share of fault.

Of course, this rule controls judge or jury awards in civil lawsuits (if you get to that stage). But before you get to that point, a car insurance claims adjuster will negotiate a settlement with an eye on Idaho's comparative fault rules. Keep in mind that because there is not a precise method to apportion fault empirically, the ultimate decision as to fault will depend on your ability to negotiate with an insurance claim adjuster, or to convince a judge or jury.

Idaho Auto Insurance Requirements

Car insurance is certain to play a part in any claim that's made after a car accident. Idaho, like most states, requires vehicle owners to maintain certain minimum amounts of liability coverage. So, understanding the Idaho auto insurance rules is essential to any potential car accident case.

Reporting a Car Accident in Idaho

According to Idaho Statutes section 49-1305, the driver of a vehicle that was involved in an accident in Idaho must report the crash if it resulted in:

  • injury to or death of any person, or
  • damage to the property of any one person in excess of $1,500.

The driver must give notice of the accident to the local police department if the accident occurred within a city in Idaho. If the accident did not occur within a city, the driver must give notice to the office of the county sheriff or the nearest office of the Idaho State Police.

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