How Long After a Car Accident Can You Claim Injury?
You were on your way home one night when a drunk driver swerved into your lane and crashed into your vehicle. In that split second, your life changed completely.
The next few months were a blur of medical treatments, doctor’s visits, and rehabilitative care. After some time, you were able to regain some of your mobility and begin physical therapy. You were out of work for months, and you’re not sure if you’ll ever be able to return to your old position. Your vehicle was totaled in the wreck, leaving your family to get by on a rental car before you had the time, ability, or finances to look for a new vehicle.
Before you knew it, a year had passed. In the back of your mind, you knew that there was a way to hold the drunk driver accountable for the pain and suffering they caused you. You knew it wasn’t right for their misconduct to leave you in debt.
But you just never got around to meeting with a lawyer to discuss your legal options for recovery.
Suddenly, you’re left wondering: Is it too late?
If this scenario sounds anything like the situation you’re facing right now, one of the most important pieces of information you need to know is the answer to the question:
How long after a car accident can you claim injury in Pennsylvania?
Is There a Time Limit on a Car Accident Claim in Pennsylvania?
Under PA civil law, you have the right to take “action to recover damages for injuries to the person or for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.”
In simple terms, if someone else causes you or a loved one harm, it is your legal right to recover compensation from that party for your losses. You can do this by filing an injury claim.
But there is a limit on the amount of time you have to file an injury claim after personal incidents (like car accidents).
This legal deadline is referred to as a statute of limitations. Pennsylvania state law sets the statute of limitations at two years from the date of injury.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations for Injury Claims?
There are a few exceptions to the state statute of limitations for personal injury claims.
The Discovery Rule
Most notably, there is something referred to as the “discovery rule.” This sets the start timer for the deadline from the date the injury was (or should reasonably have been) discovered, not from the date it happened.
This rule rarely applies to car accident cases, as most injuries that occur in a vehicle wreck are apparent right away. It is more common for the discovery rule to apply to a medical malpractice case, such as when a surgeon leaves a surgical instrument inside the patient, but it is not discovered until a later date.
Statutes of Limitations for Minors
Another exception may apply if the injured party is a minor. In Pennsylvania, an injured child is typically not subject to the general two-year statute of limitations until they reach their 18th birthday.
This law benefits children by allowing more time to discover and assess injuries, and to take legal action to recover compensation on behalf of minors hurt in a car accident or other personal injury event.
Claims Against a Government Entity
Another exception to the two-year statute of limitations may give you less time to file a claim. If the defendant (the party against whom you are filing a claim) is a government entity such as a municipal, county, or state agency, you may only have six months to file an injury claim.
It is not common for the defendant in a car accident case to be a government body. However, there may be situations in which a driver is a government employee performing job-related duties—or a poorly-maintained government-owned road was a causal factor in the crash.
Be sure to speak to an attorney as soon as possible if you believe there may be the involvement of a government agency. If you don’t act quickly, you may lose your right to recover compensation altogether.
Why It Is Best To Take Action Quickly After a Car Accident
Two years may seem like plenty of time to file an injury claim after a car accident. But as you most likely already know, that time passes very quickly.
More importantly, building a strong car accident claim takes a good deal of time and effort. Insurance companies aren’t going to simply take your word that you deserve compensation for your injuries. It is your legal burden to provide proof of the other party’s negligence, the link between their actions and your injuries, and the resulting economic and non-economic damages you incurred as a result.
There may be a lot of documentation and data that you and your lawyer need to investigate, analyze, secure, and compile in order to build a successful car accident injury case.
Another factor to consider is that, over time, it becomes more and more difficult to find strong evidence to support your claim.
For example, a negligent driver’s own dashcam footage may show them to be in violation of a traffic law. But if the driver has time to delete this footage before your lawyer requests it, you won’t be able to use it in your claim against them.
Similarly, eyewitnesses of the car accident can provide valuable testimony if you are able to obtain their contact information at the crash scene. Otherwise, you may not have any valid witness testimony to use to build your injury claim.
Can I Still File an Injury Claim if I Waited Too Long After a Car Accident?
If the statute of limitations has already lapsed, there is usually little you can do to recover compensation. That’s why law firms usually encourage potential clients to schedule a consultation with a lawyer right away, even if they are still considering their legal options after a car accident.
It’s always better to know your rights and make your own choice rather than to let the decision be made for you by default.
At Shrager & Sachs, we provide 100% free case consultations to car accident victims in the Greater Philadelphia region and throughout southeastern Pennsylvania.
If your statute of limitations has not passed, we can help you. Although it’s much easier to build a case early on, we have the knowledge and experience to handle a car accident case at any stage of the process—even if you fear there’s not enough time left to build a strong case.
Let us assess your options with you at no cost to you.