After an accident, the time limit to file a claim or lawsuit depends on your state and damages.
If you’ve recently been in a car accident, your first concern might be getting car repairs and medical bills paid so you can get back to everyday life.
But in some cases, when it comes to making a claim or talking to a lawyer, it might be better to wait.
US states impose their own time limits on filing insurance claims or lawsuits after car accidents, typically between one and six years. And your time limits might also vary depending on whether your accident resulted in bodily injury or property damages — or both.
Learn about the statute of limitations in your state, and how you can avoid waiting too long to file.
When should I wait to file an insurance claim?
If your accident resulted in extensive injuries, it’s worth weighing out the pros and cons of waiting to file.
- Get a more comprehensive claim. Most providers won’t allow you to file more than one claim for one accident, and if they do, the process can be much more complex.
- Get a second opinion from doctors. Waiting to file can buy you time to consult with more than one doctor to better assess your medical situation. This can save you trouble in the long run, both in terms of your health and how much your medical care costs you.
- Make the most of your available coverage. It’s possible that if you rush to file your claim, you’ll forget or miss an item that insurance would have covered if you had the chance to look through your claim again.
- Longer wait before reimbursement or payment. Depending on your circumstances, you might need your claim paid out sooner rather than later. When you wait to file, that just delays the claims process.
- Possible late bill payments. If you wait too long to file and it delays the payment of important charges or bills, you might get reported for a past-due payment to a credit reporting agency. If this happens, it could have a negative impact on your credit score.
If you or your passengers are injured in a car accident, symptoms can take weeks or even months to fully develop. The full effects of a head injury, for example, might not become evident until the injured person returns to everyday life.
If you file for a claim before you know the full extent of injuries from an accident, you could end up losing out on coverage that you’ll need in the coming weeks and months. Filing multiple claims can also make the process more difficult, if your insurance provider allows for them at all.
Injuries that don’t always show symptoms right away could include:
- Head trauma. Because of the delicate and intricate nature of the human brain, it’s difficult to predict how head injuries will affect a person’s health. While immediate signs of injury might appear after an accident, other signs and symptoms of larger issues can present themselves weeks or even months after an injured person is given the all-clear by a doctor.
- Delayed pain and whiplash. The forces of impact can put serious stress on muscles and tendons that you may not notice until a few days after an accident. Even small muscle or ligament tears could require a doctor’s attention.
- Small fractures. It’s not uncommon for a partial or minor fracture to go unnoticed, especially when it’s thrown into the mix with other large or more painful injuries. Stresses on a fractured bone during the healing processes can cause further damage, making it all the more important for you to account for all injuries before filing a claim.
- Internal injuries. Your internal organs aren’t exempt from being knocked around, getting bruised or even getting ruptured in the forces of a car crash. Symptoms from an internal injury could also take a while to show up — for example, your spleen or appendix could be damaged and continue to swell or even burst weeks after an impact, with or without pain beforehand. It’s a good idea to keep your doctor in the loop about any pain or symptoms you’re experiencing after a crash that could point to injuries beneath the surface.
After a car accident, the car’s body damage is usually easy to see — scraped paint, crumpled metal, broken glass and so on. But significant issues with the exhaust, suspension or alignment? Those things could possibly go unnoticed until days or even weeks after the repairs are supposedly complete.
A mechanic will be able to find anything wrong with the vehicle that might not be obvious at first glance. If you do need the help of a mechanic or body shop, it’s good to check whether the repair work you need done is eligible under your policy.
Injury and damages statutes by state
Compare the statute of limitations for personal injury suits or damages claims in your state.
A note about these limits
We’ve designed the chart below to be as accurate and up to date as possible, but it’s intended to be a rough guide. If you consult an attorney for advice before filing a suit, this could save you trouble down the road; lawyers are experts on state laws and they should be able to guide you through making things right.
Your time limits to file insurance claims could also be affected by your insurance provider or policy terms. To avoid running over your insurer’s limits, it’s usually best to carefully read your policy’s terms or speak with an agent.
|State||Personal injury (years)||Property damages (years)|
|Alaska||2||6 years for real property|
2 years for personal property
|District of Columbia||2||3|
|Indiana||2||6 years for real property|
2 years for personal property
|Kentucky||1||5 years for real property|
3 years for personal property
If you’re injured or your property is damaged in a car accident, it can take weeks or even months to assess the true cost of fixing what’s wrong.
Waiting before filing your claim or lawsuit with your insurer might help you get the coverage you’ll ultimately need. But if you exceed your state’s statute of limitations, you could completely miss out on filing your claim or settlement, leaving you with a financial burden.
To find out how property insurance law can affect your car insurance claim, it can help to speak to your insurance agent or an insurance professional. For more information on everything to do with auto coverage, you can read our comprehensive guide to car insurance and our insurance guides for each state.