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 when it comes to making a claim or talking to a lawyer, it might be better to wait to make sure you can pay for long-term medical bills or damage to your car that’s not apparent at first glance.
How long you have to file a claim in your state
Each state imposes its 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.
Compare the statute of limitations for reporting a car accident and personal injury suits or damages claims in your state.
Must read: 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.
Pros and cons of waiting to file an insurance claim
If your accident results in extensive injuries, weigh 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.
Should I wait to make a personal injury claim?
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.
Should I wait to make a property damage claim?
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.
Rate increase after a claim? Compare car insurance quotes
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.
Many insurance providers reserve the right to set time limits for filing claims. If you feel your provider has set an unfair time limit, you may want to speak with an agent about a possible compromise, or other options that might help you file in time while still getting the coverage you need.
Generally speaking, filing a claim as soon after an accident as possible helps your insurer to pay all the bills and expenses from your accident more quickly. Claims take time to process, so the sooner you file, the sooner you’ll probably see a reimbursement or payment from your provider.
This depends on your circumstances. Usually, it’s only best if you and your doctor are both certain that all injuries and issues are accounted for. But even then, complications can arise from a healing wound or setting a broken bone, requiring further hospitalization or even surgery.
You can’t wait forever to file your claim — in fact, the limit could be as short as a year after the accident — but it might be wise to wait until your health is truly back to 100% before you consider the medical portion of your claim ready to file.
Typically your insurance premiums will increase after making a claim on your insurance. You might also lose any no-claim or claim-free discount for maintaining your policy with no accidents or claims for a certain period.
However, if you have accident forgiveness on your policy, you’re usually protected from any increase in cost because of your previous track record for safe driving. It may help to talk to your provider, so you can find out how much your rate will increase, and whether it’s worth it to make your claim or pay out of pocket for damages.
Roslyn McKenna is an insurance expert who's driven to help people get a great deal on insurance to protect their families and finances. Roslyn earned a BA in writing and communications from Maryville College and has written professionally for more than a decade, showing up on Bankrate, MSN and Reader's Digest.
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