A passenger hurt in a head-on car accident wrote us with a question about the statute of limitations. “Both drivers had insurance,” he says. “But the insurance companies told me we had to get all parties present before making any negotiations. They put me off until the statute of limitations ran out and never gave me an offer. Do I have any recourse?” We’ll explain how to protect your rights if you get hurt and find yourself in a similar situation.
In Some States, It’s Much Harder to Sue At-Fault Drivers
First, it’s important to know if your accident happened in an at-fault or no-fault state. In 12 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, it doesn’t matter which driver caused the accident. Your only choice is to file a claim with your own insurance company for any damages. Since the question came from a passenger, not the driver, that means filing a claim under the insured driver’s policy.
That said, if your injuries are severe enough, in some cases, you can still sue. It varies by state, of course. For example: If the at-fault driver kills someone, the family can likely sue. If you need permanent medical care for a disabling or disfiguring injury, that almost certainly counts, too. In at-fault states, you can sue the driver responsible for injuring you before the statute of limitations runs out.
How the Statute of Limitations Applies to Car Accident Claims
The statute of limitations is your state’s deadline to file an insurance claim or sue the person who injured you. Most people may not realize that this deadline is different in every state. In Louisiana and Tennessee, for example, the statute of limitations is one year from your accident date. Most states give you two or three years to negotiate a settlement for medical bills and vehicle repairs.
While both insurance companies contacted our questioner, they failed to make him an offer before the statute ran out. Limiting or avoiding payouts to car accident victims is a common tactic insurers use to protect their bottom lines. Once his state’s statute of limitations expired, both insurance companies are legally off the hook for paying a settlement. You’ll notice he says they refused to make negotiations without “all parties present.” This is because if they verbally promised him a payout, a recording could prove the insurers broke an oral contract.
Since that didn’t happen, our passenger has no legal recourse to seek a cash payout from either insurer.
For the Biggest Cash Payout, Secure Professional Help Fast
Insurers usually lowball offers to settle car accident cases. Statistically, they only pay a little more than half the total cost of damages incurred every year, on average. In fact, page 18 of this NHTSA study shows private insurance companies pay about 54% of car accident costs. Accident victims, on the other hand, pay about 23% of those expenses out of their own pockets.
In nearly every case, you need a lawyer to get the maximum cash settlement for your injuries. This includes cases where they simply negotiate on your behalf directly with insurance providers. In fact, lawyers settle most motor vehicle injury claims without going to court, and long before the statute runs out. Think you’ll keep more money if you negotiate directly with insurance yourself? Wrong. Even after legal fees, you still get more money than you typically get settling directly with the claims adjuster. So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s what to do:
- Always call 911 and seek medical attention. A lot of people don’t realize they’re hurt until hours or days later. An official police record and medical care can help prove your case and maximize your cash payout.
- Get matched with the closest lawyer who can help you. This attorney won’t charge anything until after you get paid. Then, you only pay a small, one-time fee. If you don’t have a valid claim, then the lawyer will say so. This initial discussion costs you $0.
- Never negotiate directly with insurers or give any details by phone. Talking to a claims adjuster might sound innocent enough, but they record what you say. Your own words may reduce your offer amount or help insurers legally avoid paying you anything!
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.