A “statute of limitations,” for those who aren’t fluent in legalese, is a state law that sets a time limit on a prospective plaintiff’s right to bring a lawsuit -- that means filing the initial complaint in the state’s civil court system. These deadlines vary depending on the kind of case you want to file, but they are almost always measured in years.
In New York, the time limit that applies to a vehicle accident case depends on whether the crash resulted in injury and/or property damage, or death.
The statute of limitations that applies to most car accident lawsuits filed in New York is the same as the larger one that covers all 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 damaged property (such as a vehicle).
But if someone died as a result of the 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).
Whether it’s a standard personal injury lawsuit or a wrongful death claim, the case will almost certainly hinge on whether the allegedly-at-fault driver’s negligence was the cause of the car accident.
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.
You may be confident that your case will be resolved through the insurance claim process, 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 the filing deadline is coming up, it may be time to contact an experienced New York car accident attorney to make sure your legal options are preserved.