A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on the right to take certain kinds of legal action. After a car accident, a statute of limitations puts a strict deadline on when a lawsuit must be filed in the state's civil court system, by anyone seeking compensation for crash-related losses.
In New York, the time limit that applies to a traffic accident-related lawsuit depends on whether the person filing the case (the plaintiff) is seeking compensation for injuries, property damage, or death.
The statute of limitations that applies to car accident injury lawsuits filed in New York is the same as the larger one that covers most personal injury cases. Specifically, under New York Civil Practice Laws & Rules section 214, if anyone was injured in a car accident—that includes a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian—they must get their lawsuit filed within three years of the date of the crash.
That same three-year deadline applies if the lawsuit is seeking only compensation for the repair or replacement of a vehicle or other property that's been damaged or declared a "total loss" after the crash.
If someone dies as a result of a car accident, and the family or other representative of the deceased person wants to file a New York 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 (and keep in mind that the date of the death might be different from the date of the accident). This statute of limitations can be found at New York Estates, Powers & Trusts law section 5-4.1.
In New York, as in every state, if you try to file your lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has passed, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it. That's why it's so important to understand how the deadline applies to your situation.
Yes. There are a few (relatively rare) situations that might change the statute of limitations timeline after a car accident, including when:
Learn more about other New York laws that could affect a car accident case, and New York's car insurance rules.
If you've already started the car insurance claim process, you might be confident that you'll get a settlement. But from a strategy standpoint you always want to make sure you have plenty of time to file a car accident lawsuit if you need to. At a minimum, doing so will give you more leverage during settlement negotiations.
If you have questions about the statute of limitations, or if the filing deadline is coming up, it may be time to contact an experienced legal professional. Learn more about when you might need a car accident lawyer, and what to expect from your first meeting with a car accident attorney.