Louisiana Car Accident Laws

The statutory deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in Louisiana courts, the state's "pure comparative negligence" rule, and requirements for reporting a car accident.

After a Louisiana traffic accident, if you've been injured or your vehicle has been damaged, you may want to consider your options for getting compensation for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few Louisiana laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make.

The Louisiana Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.

As is true in many states, the statute of limitations that affects most car accident lawsuits in Louisiana is the same as the larger one that applies to almost all personal injury cases. Specifically, Louisiana Civil Code Article 3492 says: "Delictual actions are subject to a liberative prescription of one year. This prescription commences to run from the day injury or damage is sustained."

How’s that for legalese? A "delictual" action is simply a lawsuit over some kind of harm, and a "liberative prescription" is a time limit. So, what Article 3492 says is that any lawsuit for injury or property damage must be filed within one year -- that includes any claim for injury or vehicle damage by a driver, passenger, pedestrian, motorcyclist, or bicyclist after a traffic accident. Louisiana’s one-year statute of limitations "clock" starts running on the date of the crash.

(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.)

If you try to file your lawsuit after the applicable time limit has passed, you can count on the defendant (the person you’re trying to sue) pointing out that discrepancy to the court as part of a motion to dismiss. The court will almost certainly grant the motion (unless some rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline), and that will be the end of your case. That's why it’s crucial to understand how the statute of applies to your situation.

Even if you’re confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to -- if for no other reason than that you’ll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the filing deadline, you may want to contact an experienced Louisiana car accident attorney.

Comparative Negligence in Louisiana Car Accident Cases

Suppose you're seriously injured in a Louisiana car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident -- but that you too bear part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?

According to Louisiana Civil Code section 2323, Louisiana is a "pure comparative fault" state. This means that the amount of damages you can recover in a car-accident-related lawsuit is reduced by the same percentage as your level of fault in causing the crash.

For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $100,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $100,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $10,000, leaving you with a total award of $90,000. Even if you're found mostly at-fault for the accident, you can still recover for your losses against other at-fault parties, just be prepared to see any damages award significantly reduced.

The comparative negligence rule binds Louisiana judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), and it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.

Reporting a Car Accident in Louisiana

According to Louisiana Revised Statutes section 32-398, drivers in the state must report any vehicle accident that:

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

The driver must report the accident to the local police department if the accident occurred within an incorporated city or town. If the accident occurred outside an incorporated city or town, the driver must report the accident to the nearest sheriff's office or state police station. In either case, the driver must make the report "immediately, by the quickest means of communication."

Section 32-398 also says that the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person, or total property damage to an apparent extent of $100 or more must also send a written report of the accident to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections within 24 hours after the crash.

Failure to send a written accident report to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections within 24 hours after the accident is punishable by imprisonment for up to 60 days, fine of up to $100, or both.

Louisiana Car Insurance Requirements

In almost every Louisiana car accident scenario, insurance coverage is sure to play a key role, so it's important to understand the state's liability auto insurance requirements and other coverage rules that could affect your car accident claim. Get the details on Louisiana's car insurance rules.

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