Following a motor vehicle collision, many injured victims are unsure whether and when they should contact an attorney. Some people think that they should wait and try to handle their claims on their own. Waiting to contact a lawyer might result in failing to meet the deadline for filing personal injury claims. It might also cause other issues with your ability to gather evidence to support your claim or with potential mistakes you might make when you deal with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Here are some reasons why it is a good idea for you to contact an experienced accident attorney from Lamber Goodnow as soon as possible after your injury collision.
Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims
Arizona has established different statutes of limitations for various types of legal claims. These laws are meant to prevent people from waiting so long to file claims that the claims are difficult to prove or defend against. The relevant statute of limitations for personal injury cases, including motor vehicle accidents, is found at A.R.S. § 12-542. Under this law, you must file a car accident injury claim no later than two years after the date of your accident and injuries. If you wait to contact a lawyer for help with filing your claim until after the limitations period has expired, your claim will be time-barred. This means that you will be prevented from seeking compensation through a car accident claim.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations
While the general statute of limitations for car accident claims is two years, there are certain circumstances under which the statute of limitations might be tolled, which means it will stop running for a period while a specific situation is present. A couple of these are discussed below.
Minors or People Who Are Mentally Incompetent as Accident Victims
If the accident victim is younger than age 18 at the time of their collision and injuries, the limitations period will not begin running until they reach age 18. They will then have until age 20 to file a lawsuit to recover compensation for their injuries and losses. Similarly, if the accident victim is mentally incompetent at the time of the collision, the statute of limitations will be tolled until they regain competence. However, most cases involving minors will be prosecuted on their behalf by their parents. People who are rendered incompetent by an accident might have their cases prosecuted by their legal guardians.
Government Agency Defendants
If the at-fault party was a government employee who was working within the scope and course of their employment at the time they caused your accident, the limitations period is much shorter under the Arizona Tort Claims Act. For example, if your vehicle was hit by someone who was driving a city truck, resulting in serious injuries, the defendant would be the municipality that employs the driver. Any claim against a local or state governmental agency must be filed within 180 days of the date of the accident. If you fail to meet this deadline, you will be barred from seeking damages for your injuries and other losses. Whenever a government agency might be involved, you should seek legal representation as early as possible to avoid running into a statute of limitation problem.
Making Mistakes When Dealing With the Insurance Company
If your car accident only involved property damage, you can likely handle your claim without the help of an attorney. However, if your claim involves a bodily injury claim, working with an attorney might make it much likelier that you will recover the compensation to which you should be entitled and avoid making critical mistakes with your claim.
Insurance companies typically aggressively defend against injury claims to try to increase their profits by minimizing how much they might have to pay. As a result, they often use several tactics when they are dealing with car accident victims. Working with an attorney from the start can help you avoid making mistakes when dealing with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Here are a few common tactics insurance companies use to try to reduce the value of claims or avoid paying them entirely.
Asking the Victims to Provide Statements
After a car accident, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will likely contact you to try to get you to talk about the collision and your injuries. Since the at-fault driver’s insurance company does not have a contract with you, you are not legally obligated to speak to its representatives. In many cases, insurance adjusters will contact accident victims and claim they need more information about their accidents and injuries to process their claims. However, the job of insurance adjusters is to try to help their employers minimize how much they might have to pay.
While an adjuster might come across as a caring person, you should avoid agreeing to talk about your accident or injuries without speaking to an attorney. Adjusters are trained to ask questions in such a way that they can elicit problematic statements from accident victims that can subsequently be used against them in their claims. You can politely explain that you don’t want to provide a statement to the adjuster until you have had a chance to talk to one of the experienced lawyers at Lamber Goodnow.
Sending Early Settlement Offers
Another tactic that insurance companies sometimes use is to send an early settlement offer soon after they learn that someone has been seriously injured. These early offers are frequently unreasonably low and insufficient to cover all of the victims’ losses. The insurance company might send you an early settlement offer to try to convince you that your claim is worth less than it is and get you to accept it. Once you accept an offer made by the insurance company, you won’t be able to ask for additional compensation later when you discover it was a low-ball settlement. Anytime that you receive a settlement offer from an insurance company, you should ask an attorney to review it to determine whether it is fair and reasonable before you accept it.
Asking You to Sign a Medical Authorization
A third tactic that is often used by insurance companies is to send a medical authorization form to a car accident victim. The company might claim that it needs you to sign the authorization so that it can verify your injuries and process your claim. In reality, these authorizations are frequently overly broad and allow the insurance company to dig through your entire medical record. Companies do this to try to find another incident on which to blame your injuries and reduce the value of your claim.
Loss of Evidence
Important evidence that can support your liability claim can be lost as time passes. For example, witnesses who saw your accident might move and be difficult to locate if you wait too long to contact a lawyer. Even if your attorney can find a witness a year or longer after your crash, the witness’s memories of what occurred might have faded. Other types of evidence from the accident scene can also be lost with time. For example, if the involved vehicles have been repaired or destroyed, critical evidence might no longer be available by the time you contact a lawyer. In some cases, evidence from nearby surveillance cameras, black boxes, and others might be lost or spoliated. Getting help quickly can ensure that the critical evidence in your case is preserved.
Why and When to Contact an Accident Lawyer
Contacting a lawyer as soon as possible after you have sought medical treatment for your injuries can help you avoid all of these issues. While you are not required to hire a lawyer to handle your car accident injury case, doing so can greatly increase the chances that you will receive full compensation for your losses.
An experienced car accident attorney at Lamber Goodnow can advise you about the statute of limitations and how it applies in your case. They can also file a motion to preserve evidence to ensure that nothing will be lost or spoliated and handle all communications with the insurance company for you. Working with one of our experienced attorneys can help to improve your chances of winning your claim and recovering full compensation for your losses. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.