Minnesota Car Accident Laws

The deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in Minnesota's courts, the state's comparative negligence law, and rules for reporting a car accident in Minnesota.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 9/13/2021

If you've been injured after any kind of traffic accident in Minnesota, now is probably a good time to understand your legal options. In this article, we'll discuss a number of state laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make, including:

  • the two-year deadline for the filing of most car accident injury lawsuits in Minnesota's civil court system, and
  • Minnesota's "modified comparative fault" rule, which allows for financial recovery only when the claimant's level of responsibility for causing the accident does not exceed that of the other party (or parties) involved.

(Important note on no-fault: Minnesota is a no-fault car insurance state. That means, after a car accident, you typically need to file a claim under your own personal injury protection coverage to get compensation for medical bills and other financial losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injury claim meets certain prerequisites can you step outside of no-fault and bring a claim directly against the at-fault driver. The discussion in the following sections presumes that you're able to do that. For details on Minnesota's no-fault rules, skip to the last section of this article.)

The Minnesota 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.

It's important to note that 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.

Now, what does the law say in Minnesota? If anyone was injured in the accident—whether a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, pedestrian, bicyclist, or electric scooter rider—they must get their civil lawsuit filed within two years of the date of the accident, according to Minnesota Statutes section 541.07. For these lawsuits over car accident injuries, the two-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.

But if the accident caused someone's death, and the family or other representative of the deceased person wants to bring a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver, that case generally must be filed within three years, and the "clock" starts on the date of the person's death, if it is different from the date of the accident. That deadline is part of Minnesota's wrongful death law, which you can find at Minnesota Statutes section 573.02.

It's crucial to understand and abide by the statute of limitations as it applies to your situation. That's because if you try to file your lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has already passed, the defendant is sure to ask the court to dismiss the case, and the court is very likely to agree that a dismissal is appropriate.

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 Minnesota car accident attorney.

Comparative Negligence in Minnesota Car Accident Cases

Suppose you're seriously injured in a Minnesota 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?

Under Minnesota Statutes section 604.01, the state follows a "modified comparative negligence" rule. This means you can still recover damages in a car-accident-related lawsuit, but your award will be reduced according to your share of negligence—as long as your share of liability is "not greater than the fault of the person against whom recovery is sought." In other words, you can't be more than 50 percent responsible when compared with the defendant you're suing. If you are, you can't receive any compensation in court.

For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $10,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $10,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $1,000, leaving you with a total award of $9,000.

The comparative negligence rule binds Minnesota judges and juries (if your car accident case winds its way to trial), 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 Minnesota

If you're a driver involved in a car accident in Minnesota, and the crash resulted in injury to or death of another person, you must report the accident by "the quickest means of communication" (i.e. via cellphone call). The collision must be reported to:

  • the local police department, if the accident occurred within a municipality
  • the State Police, if the accident occurred on a state highway, or
  • the county sheriff's office.

These rules can be found at Minnesota Statutes section 169.09.

Minnesota's No-Fault Car Insurance Rules

As touched on above, Minnesota is one of a dozen or so states that follow a no-fault car insurance scheme. That means injured drivers and passengers must typically turn first to their own personal-injury-protection car insurance coverage to get compensation for medical bills, lost income, and other out-of-pocket losses after a crash, regardless of who might have been at fault. A claim against the at-fault driver is only possible in certain scenarios. Get the details on Minnesota's no-fault car insurance rules.

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