In Arizona, the statute of limitations for filing an auto accident lawsuit – or any personal injury case – is two years. In the case of an auto accident resulting in injuries, that would be two years from the date of the accident. If someone died in the accident and it is a wrongful death case, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the person’s death. If you try to file after the two-year period, the court will reject your case.
There are exceptions to the two-year rule. If you are filing a lawsuit against a government entity, you may have to file much sooner (see below).
Other states have different statutes of limitations. So you’ll need to do your research if your accident occurred in another state. Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana laws require you to file suit within one year of the date of the accident. States such as Maine and North Dakota allow you to file the suit within six years. You have five years in Missouri and four in Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, and Florida. Every other state allows you two to three years to file your lawsuit.
The benefits of acting quickly in an auto accident case
Just because Arizonans technically have two years to file a lawsuit doesn’t mean you should wait. First, your insurance company requires you to report accidents in a timely matter. And to ensure you are acting in your best interest, you should consult with an attorney before you speak with the other driver’s insurance company and your own insurance company. The other driver’s insurance company may try to get you to record a statement or quickly make a settlement you are unsure of. If that happens, politely decline, and seek the counsel of an experienced attorney.
If you contact an attorney as soon as possible, your memories of the accident will be fresh in your mind. You will better be able to present evidence to your attorney. In turn, your attorney will be able to launch an immediate investigation. He or she will have a better chance of contacting and interviewing witnesses to the accident. Those witnesses’ memories will also be more accurate soon after the incident. If you act quickly, your attorney also has a better chance of securing video surveillance footage of the accident.
In addition, taking action soon after the collision lends your case more credibility. Waiting almost two years will make the opposing counsel wonder if there are extraneous circumstances surrounding your decision. This could harm your case.
Filing a case against a government entity
There are a few instances in which you might have to file an auto accident case against a government entity instead of (or in addition to) a private citizen.
If the driver of the vehicle that hit you was a government employee driving a government-issued vehicle, you may be able to file a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Note that this applies only to federal employees, not to independent contractors who are hired by the federal government. In addition, the government employee’s negligent driving must have occurred within the scope of his or her employment.
Another situation in which you may sue a government entity for negligence is if your accident occurred at a construction site and was the result of negligence on the part of the state. For example, if the construction site was not properly signed or marked off and you hit a hole in the road or an object left in the road, the construction company or the government may be deemed liable.
You have two years from the date of the accident to file an administrative claim with the appropriate federal agency. Once the agency responds, you have six months from the date the agency mails you a response letter to file a lawsuit. To be clear, if you file your administrative claim very soon after the accident and the agency responds within a couple months, you will still have only six months to file a lawsuit, even if you are well within the two-year limit to file the administrative claim.
Because suing a government agency can be even more complex than suing a private citizen, you should definitely consult with an experienced attorney.
How long will it take to get compensation for damages?
Once you make a claim, the timeline can vary considerably depending on the unique details of your case. In some cases, liability is clear, and the other party admits fault. In many cases, however, the insurance company or defendants vigorously dispute the claim.
It’s possible that with the help of your attorneys, the case may settle, and you may receive your compensation within a few months. Rarely do personal injury cases go to court, but if your case does, this would of course take longer.