How Long After an Accident Can You File a Claim?

The personal injury claim statute of limitations varies in different states. Generally, it’s two years. The countdown clock may or may not start ticking down immediately after the injury. Legally, victims have two years from the time they know the full extent of their injuries, and they connect those injuries with a tortfeasor’s (negligent party’s) conduct or misconduct, to file claims. This technicality, which is known as the discovery rule, usually has a significant impact in disease claims. More on that below.

Statutes of limitations go back to the earliest Roman and Greek legal systems. An SOL protects victims and tortfeasors alike. These laws encourage victims to strike while the iron is hot and file claims at the earliest available opportunity. Delay hurts the party with the burden of proof, which in this case is the victim.The SOL also protects tortfeasors. People who make mistakes should pay for them, but they shouldn’t have to look over their shoulders perpetually because of them.

Incidentally, this “delay hurts the party with the burden of proof” concept is why many criminal defense lawyers delay cases as long as possible.

Injury Claims

Most dog bite, fall, car crash, and other injuries are immediately apparent. Additionally, in most cases, the victim knows who caused the crash. Note that we used the word “most” in both those sentences.

Car crash and other injuries are usually hard to diagnose. Usually, adrenaline masks initial pain. Therefore, many victims don’t immediately realize the full extent of their injuries. Two years sounds like a long time. However, any delay creates time pressure. As a result, most attorneys must file legal paperwork, not to delay the process, but to protect the victim’s legal rights.

Compensation in a personal injury claim usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Disease Claims

Cancer and other disease claims usually stem from toxic exposure, dangerous products, or defective products. These cases are much more complex than other injury claims. The discovery rule, which was mentioned above, is just the beginning. However, that’s the part we’ll examine in this post.

Assume that, in 1992, Timmy was exposed to asbestos at school. Many asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma, have at least a fifty-year latency period. If a doctor says Timmy has mesothelioma in 2042, he still has two years to file a legal claim, even though the SOL passed decades ago.

Now assume Timmy takes Drug X for six months in 2022. Five years later, the company adds a possible cancer warning to the Drug X label. However, Timmy isn’t taking those meds anymore, so he doesn’t see the warning. Fifteen years after that, in 2042, Timmy’s doctor says he has cancer. Once again, he still has two years to file a claim, even though the injury occurred a long time ago, and the company admitted responsibility almost as long ago.

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