If you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged after any kind of traffic accident in Montana, now is probably a good time to take a close look at 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 in Montana, and we'll look at the legal obligations of drivers when it comes to reporting a crash.
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.
Montana Code section 27-2-204 sets the statute of limitations that will apply to almost all lawsuits over car accident injuries. This law gives you three years to ask Montana’s civil courts for a remedy for any kind of personal injury caused by someone else.
So, in the context of a car accident, any lawsuit by any driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian injured in the crash will be subject to this three-year filing deadline, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.
That same deadline also governs a wrongful death claim that might be brought if anyone was killed as a result of the car accident. The only difference is that for these wrongful death claims, the three-year “clock” starts running on the date of the accident victim’s death (as opposed to the accident date).
Finally, for damage to a vehicle or other property as a result of the car accident, Montana Code section 27-2-207 says that any lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date of the crash.
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 Montana car accident attorney.
Suppose you're seriously injured in a Montana 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 Montana Code section 27-1-702, 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. And if your share of fault is "greater than the fault of the defendant or the combined fault of all defendants and nonparties" (you're deemed more at fault than all others involved in the accident combined), you can't recover anything at all 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 Montana 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.
According to Montana's Uniform Accident Reporting Act, if as a driver you know -- or reasonably should know -- that you have been involved in any of the following types of accidents, you must report the crash:
The driver must report the accident to the local police department if the accident occurred within a municipality. If the accident did not occur within a municipality, the driver must report the accident to the office of the county sheriff or to the nearest office of the Montana Highway Patrol.
You must also file a written accident report with the Montana Motor Vehicle Division within 10 days after any crash in which:
In almost every Montana 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 Montana's car insurance rules.