How Soon After I Am Injured Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?

Being injured in an accident can be devastating. You could sustain severe injuries that keep you out of work for months. Some accident victims develop permanent impairments that impact the rest of their lives.

Most states require drivers to have some form of insurance for car accidents. Most of these states are at-fault states, including California, but there are also several states that require no-fault insurance, such as Florida. The process for filing a personal injury claim is different in each of these states.

This article focuses on the difference between filing a lawsuit for an accident in a no-fault state and an at-fault state, including how long you have to file a claim.

Filing Insurance Claims After Car Accidents in At-Fault and No-Fault States

California is an at-fault insurance state and requires drivers to have a motor vehicle liability insurance policy or other form of insurance to cover car accidents. Liability insurance pays accident victims for damages when the insured driver causes a car crash. The minimum amount of car insurance required in California is $15,000 for the death or injury of one person ($30,000 per accident).

If you are injured in a California car accident, you will file a car insurance claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The insurance company will investigate the accident to determine liability. If its insured driver caused the crash, the insurance company should compensate you for damages up to the policy limits.

On the other hand, many no-fault insurance states like Florida do not require drivers to have bodily injury liability insurance, although they can purchase the coverage if they desire. Instead, Florida requires drivers to purchase no-fault insurance or Personal Injury Protection (PIP). Drivers must have $10,000 of PIP coverage. 

In California, an at-fault state, you must prove causation and fault to receive payment for a car accident claim. In contrast, in Florida, a no-fault state, you can receive benefits without proving fault when you file a claim with your PIP provider for a car accident. No-fault insurance pays benefits regardless of who causes the accident. 

At-fault insurance or liability insurance pays compensation for non-economic damages — also known as “pain and suffering” damages — and economic damages. By contrast, no-fault insurance does not pay any benefits for non-economic damages. PIP benefits pay up to 80% of your medical bills and 60% of your lost wages

Filing a Lawsuit for a Car Accident in At-Fault and No-Fault States

In at-fault insurance states, such as California, you can sue the at-fault driver for damages not covered by liability insurance or if the insurance company refuses to settle your claim. You are not required to accept a settlement offer from an insurance company. If you do not agree with the settlement amount, you can decline the offer and file a lawsuit against the driver who caused the car crash.

However, in no-fault insurance states, such as Florida, you must meet the serious injury threshold to file a lawsuit after a car accident. For example, Florida statutes define serious injuries as:

  • Death 
  • Permanent and significant loss of an important bodily function
  • Permanent impairment
  • Significant and permanent disfigurement or scarring

This means that you cannot recover damages from the at-fault driver unless you sustain one of the above injuries. The liability insurance company typically hires a defense attorney to represent the driver. If the driver does not have liability insurance, the driver may or may not respond to the lawsuit.

How Long Do You Have to File a Lawsuit for a Car Accident in At-Fault and No-Fault States?

A statute of limitations is a deadline for filing a claim or lawsuit. If you do not file a lawsuit before the deadline, you give up your right to pursue a legal claim for damages. Each state enacts statutes of limitations. Therefore, the deadlines for filing lawsuits vary.

The statute of limitations for a California car accident lawsuit is typically two years from the accident date. The deadline for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of death.

The statute of limitations for most Florida car accident lawsuits is typically four years from the accident date. However, if a car accident victim dies from their injuries, the deadline for filing a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of death.

Exceptions to the statutes of limitations can shorten or lengthen the deadline for filing a lawsuit. For example, lawsuits against a government entity have shorter deadlines. 

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer for Help With Your Claim

The best way to protect your right to a lawsuit is to seek legal advice. Consider the type of insurance required by the state in which your accident occurred, whether it is an at-fault state, such as California, or a no-fault state, such as Florida. Local personal injury lawyers can calculate the deadline to file a lawsuit and work to settle your car accident claim for a fair amount.

Contact a lawyer today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.