Generally, Texas’s car accident claim statute of limitations is two years. Even if it’s just one day longer, victims who wait longer than that to file legal claims could lose the right to obtain fair compensation for their injuries. As a result, they are solely responsible for medical bills and other accident-related expenses. They also get nothing to make up for their emotional distress, loss of enjoyment in life, and other non-economic losses.
The car accident claim statute of limitations, which varies in different states, balances the interests of tortfeasors (negligent parties) and victims (innocent parties). Negligent parties should not have to look over their shoulders for the rest of their lives because they are afraid someone will sue them. On the other hand, victims need time to build injury claims at the other end of the spectrum, as outlined below.
Two years may sound like a long time. However, given everything that must transpire in a personal injury suit before it’s even ready to go to court, the time passes quickly. So, if you or a loved one was hurt or killed in a car crash, it’s imperative to reach out to a Houston personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Otherwise, a victim might have to throw together a case at the last minute to beat the statute of limitations clock. Unfortunately, these half-court Hail Mary shots rarely go through the hoop.
The Pre-suit Process
Getting a head start is essential because a car crash or other personal injury claim is not immediately ready to go to court. Furthermore, a Houston personal injury attorney typically works to resolve the case quietly out of court before filing legal paperwork.
Evidence is often key in these claims. The victim/plaintiff has the burden of proof in a personal injury claim. Furthermore, there is usually a direct relationship between the amount of evidence a victim presents and the amount of compensation a jury awards. Evidence in car wreck claims includes:
- Medical Records: Hospital bills usually include both diagnosis and treatment information. So, these bills establish current costs and potential future costs. Patient charts and other such records help establish the victim’s pain level. Frequently, hospitals store these records in secure, offsite locations. It usually takes some time, as well as a court order, to obtain these records.
- Police Report: These same issues apply to police accident reports. In addition to offsite storage, these records do not legally belong to the victim. Therefore, a web of privacy and other laws usually delay access to the police report. Additionally, the investigation might take several months, especially after a fatal accident. As a result, a final report is unavailable until investigators are completely finished.
- Event Data Recorder: An EDR is like a commercial jet’s black box flight recorder. EDRs measure and record operational metrics like steering angle and vehicle speed. In practical terms, an EDR is like an eyewitness to the crash who is never biased or incorrect. So, EDR evidence is almost bulletproof in court. However, the same privacy and other laws mentioned above usually restrict access to this gadget.
The pre-suit process only begins with evidence collection. Next, a Houston personal injury attorney must apply the facts to the correct legal theory. Usually, this theory is ordinary negligence, a lack of care, or negligence per se, which is a violation of safety law.
If the statute of limitations is approaching, attorneys must take shortcuts in these processes. They might skip to the theory and collect evidence supporting the claim. They could reduce or eliminate compensation in the case.
Extending the Car Accident Claim Statute of Limitations
As long as lawyers get to work quickly, the statute of limitations is usually not a problem in most car accident claims. But it could be a significant problem in other claims, especially toxic exposure claims.
A fuel spill is a good example. Diesel fuel contains several highly toxic particles, such as benzene. Over time, these poisonous particles could cause many serious illnesses, like breathing problems and cancer. But, it usually takes many years for these problems to develop. As a result, many of these victims are sick for decades before realizing anything is wrong. By that time, the two-year statute of limitations had long since expired.
The discovery rule usually protects victims in these situations. Victims are under no legal obligation to file claims until:
- They know the true extent of their damages, and
- They connect those damages to a tortfeasor’s wrongful conduct.
Assume David took Drug X for six months in 2019. After he stops taking the drug in 2020, the manufacturer includes a warning about severe possible side effects, including cancer. But since David isn’t taking Drug X anymore, he doesn’t know about the warning. Ten years later, in 2030, David sees his doctor for a routine diagnostic visit. A diagnostic test shows that David has cancer. David sees a TV news special linking Drug X to cancer two years later.
Even though David’s injury probably occurred in 2019, he has until 2034 (two years after he knew about the illness and connected to the drug company’s error) to file a claim in civil court.
Resolving a Court Claim
Getting through the courthouse door is only part of the picture. A Houston personal injury attorney must also successfully resolve the claim. This resolution involves an out-of-court settlement. Usually, an emotional courtroom showdown benefits no one.
Once the case goes to court, most claims settle during mediation at the end of the process. Both parties have a legal duty to negotiate in good faith. Mediation usually works, even if informal settlement negotiations have bogged down or broken off.
Don’t miss the short statute of limitations in car wreck claims. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Houston, contact Williams Hart & Boundas Boundas LLP. Lawyers can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.