Ohio Car Accident Laws

An in-depth look at statutory time limits for filing an Ohio car accident lawsuit, the state's comparative negligence rule, and more.

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

Ohio's Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a time limit on a potential plaintiff’s right to bring a lawsuit. These deadlines vary depending 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 Ohio, the statute of limitations that will affect most car accident lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to most personal injury cases. Specifically, under Ohio Revised Code section 2305.10, an "action for bodily injury" (a personal injury lawsuit, in other words) must be filed within two years of the date of the injury -- in a car accident case, that includes a claim filed by a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian.

If someone died as a result of the accident, and the family or other representative of the deceased person wants to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver who caused the crash, the deadline for starting that case is two years from the date of the deceased person’s death (keep in mind, that date might be different from the date of the accident).

Whether your case is a standard personal injury lawsuit or one that includes a wrongful death claim, it will most likely turn on your ability to prove that the at-fault driver’s negligence was the cause of the car accident.

Having read all of this, you may be wondering what happens if the statute of limitations deadline has passed but you try to file your lawsuit anyway. In that situation, the person you’re trying to sue will point out to the court that the deadline has passed, and the court will almost certainly dismiss the case (unless a rare exception applies to extend the deadline. That’s why it’s so important to understand how the statute of limitations applies to your situation.

Even if you’re pretty sure that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, it’s always a good idea to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit if you need to. From a car accident settlement negotiation strategy standpoint, that will give you more leverage. If the filing deadline is coming up, it may be time to contact an experienced Ohio car accident attorney to make sure you are preserving all of your legal options

Ohio Comparative Negligence in Car Accident Cases

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

In an Ohio personal injury lawsuit, you can recover against any party who was more at-fault than you were, but your damages (your financial recovery) will be reduced by a percentage that corresponds to your share of liability. In legalese, this means Ohio is a "modified comparative negligence" state.

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 Ohio’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.

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.

One last note: You will not be able to recover anything at all under Ohio's modified comparative negligence rule if your share of fault for the accident exceeds 50 percent.

Ohio Car Insurance Rules

Car insurance is certain to play a part in any claim that's made after a car accident. Ohio, like most states, requires the owner of a motor vehicle to maintain a certain amount of insurance coverage -- or otherwise demonstrate financial responsibility in case an accident occurs -- in order to operate the vehicle legally on the state's roads and highways. So, understanding the Ohio auto insurance rules is essential to any potential car accident case. For the details, check out our companion article Ohio Car Insurance Rules and Requirements.

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