What is the Car Accident Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania?

Question

What is the Car Accident Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania?

Answer

First, a little background information for those who aren’t fluent in legalese: A “statute of limitations” is a state law that puts a time limit on your right to turn to the court system for a civil remedy, after you have been harmed or wronged. You only have a certain number of years to get your lawsuit started (by filing the initial complaint) and these deadlines vary depending on the kind of case you want to file.

In Pennsylvania, as in most states, the statute of limitations that will affect a car accident lawsuit is the same as the larger one that applies to most personal injury cases.

Specifically, Pennsylvania Title 42 section 5524 says that “an action to recover damages for injuries to the person or for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another" must be brought within two years.

That’s a very long-winded way of saying that, when a car accident occurs, if anyone was injured or killed -- including a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian -- any lawsuit over the accident must be filed within two years.

But when does the “clock” start running for purposes of the statute of limitations? For an injury case, the date that matters is the date of the accident. But if the car accident caused someone’s death, and the family or other representative of the deceased person wants to bring a Pennsylvania wrongful death lawsuit against the driver who caused the crash, the “clock” starts running from the date of the victim’s death, and that date might be different from the date of the accident.

So, what happens if the statute of limitations deadline has passed, but you try to file your car accident lawsuit anyway? The person you’re trying to sue (the defendant) will file a motion to dismiss the case as time-barred, and the court will almost certainly grant the motion.

From a strategy standpoint, it makes sense to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit, even if you’re confident your case will be resolved through a car insurance settlement. At the very least, you’ll have more leverage during settlement discussions if the other side knows you have the option of taking the case to court. If the filing deadline is approaching, you may want to discuss your situation with an experienced Pennsylvania car accident lawyer.

by: David Goguen, J.D.

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