If you are like most accident victims, the first thing you think about after an accident is not how long you have to file a claim. That’s good. You should take care of many things first, not least of those being your injuries. Get medical attention as soon as possible. Get your car to a repair shop. Talk to your insurance company. If you need information or assistance on your car accidents in Georgia, contact an experienced Georgia car accident attorney today.
If you sustained serious injuries, you may need to delay auto repairs, and might have to wait to talk to your insurance company, at least in detail. However, someone—you or a close family member—should notify your insurance company of the accident as soon as possible, even if you can’t do so yourself for quite some time.
Most insurers require you to report an accident within 30 days of it happening. That doesn’t mean filing a claim within that time frame—your car accident lawyer may delay filing a claim—but you need to notify your insurance company regarding the accident as soon as you can. Letting them know as soon as possible that you were injured and that you do not believe you were at fault—or, even better, that the police report puts fault on the other driver—also is something you should do as soon as possible. A car accident lawyer can help you do this.
How long do you have to file claims for injuries? That’s another question.
What You Should Do Before Filing a Claim
Reporting your accident and filing a claim are two different things. Your insurance company likely requires you to report the accident within 30 days, but that doesn’t mean you have to file a claim in that time period. Most insurance companies also will require you to file a report with the police within 24 hours of the accident, especially if there are injuries.
It is likely that an accident involving injuries will be reported via a 911 call, either by one of the drivers or a witness, so for injury claims, that requirement likely will be covered no matter what you do, especially if you need to be taken to a hospital via ambulance. But the open question remains, how long do you have to file a claim for injuries, whether it is against your insurer or the other driver?
The answer to that question varies by state and by insurance company, but you should:
- At the scene of the accident, if you are able, call 911. Doing this ensures that anyone needing medical care—including you—will get it as soon as possible, and the police will investigate the accident and file a report, which is something your insurance company might require. This is especially true when an accident involves injuries to you or anyone else.
- Make sure that you have all the documentation your insurance company requires, which could include the names, addresses, phone numbers, and insurance information of anyone else involved in the accident. Perhaps you cannot gather it yourself at the accident scene, but the police should have done so. If you are able, you also should take pictures of the accident scene.
- Call your insurance provider as soon as possible.
- After the accident, once your insurance company notifies you of who your claims adjuster will be, contact that adjuster.
- Whether you are talking about medical bills or other information, such as witness and driver information you might have collected at the scene, or pictures you took, keep copies of everything, and provide that information to your insurance company.
These steps will lay the groundwork for filing an actual claim. How long you can wait to do so can get complicated.
The Amount of Time You Have to File A Claim For Injuries Depends on Your State And Your Insurance Company
When it comes to filing a claim for injuries, every state has its own statute of limitations, which is the amount of time you have to file a claim. For injuries in a traffic accident, the statute of limitations ranges from one year in a handful of states to six years in Maine and Minnesota. For most states, the statute of limitations is two or three years. A couple of states have a statute of limitations of five years. What all that means to you is that you have at least one year to file a claim for injuries in a traffic accident, and in a few states, you have five or six years. Most often, though, you have only two or three years. In any case, it would seem like you have lots of time, so what’s the hurry?
For one thing, that is the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit. Your insurer may have a different limit on how long you have to file a claim against your insurance. While most insurers have short limits on reporting an accident, many have no limit on filing a claim beyond the statute of limitations. But if they have a limit, and you file a claim after that time limit, the insurer might not be obligate to pay your claim.
Some limit the time to file a claim to less than your state’s statute of limitations. Your car accident lawyer can help you understand the difference. Further, the insurer for the driver at fault in your accident could have limits, as well.
If you file a notice of claim with the other driver’s insurance company after your accident, let the insurance company know that you believe that you were injured and their insured driver is responsible, then you are limited only by the statute of limitations in your state for filing a claim. Some insurance sources urge filing a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible, even from the scene of the accident, but your car accident lawyer may recommend that you delay.
Should I Delay Filing My Claim for Injuries?
There are legitimate reasons to hold off on filing an insurance claim for injuries. If you are filing a claim against your own insurance, you might lose coverage for injuries discovered later. Many insurers make it difficult to file later claims for the same injuries, even if they are continuing injuries. If your claims are against the other driver’s insurance and you end up filing a lawsuit, this could be less of a problem, but in either case, there can be reasons to delay. Many injuries, for example, do not become apparent until days, weeks, or even months after the accident.
These can include:
- Head injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, do not always show symptoms immediately. While TBIs are classified from mild to severe, even a mild TBI, such as a concussion, can have a long-term impact. A mild TBI generally involves a blow to the head resulting in less than 30 minutes of unconsciousness, if any. While such an injury might not show up on a brain scan, avoiding diagnosis at the time of injury, it can result in lasting health problems. These can include headaches, memory loss difficulty concentrating or paying attention for long periods, mood swings, and a loss of ability to focus on complicated questions or issues. Even symptoms of most mild TBIs fade quickly, as many as 15 percent can result in continuing symptoms.
- Soft tissue injuries such as whiplash. Like mild TBIs, symptoms might not manifest right away.
- Fractures are not always apparent and do not necessarily cause pain immediately.
- Internal injuries can range from bruises to ruptures and, depending upon the severity, might cause continuing problems without showing immediate symptoms.
The advantages of filing your insurance claim later are especially relevant in the event you are filing against your own insurance. In that case, you want to make sure that you comply with your policy requirements.
While you might want to file quickly to get help with your medical bills, waiting will give you a more all-inclusive claim. Your insurance company might only allow one claim per accident. Even if you are allowed to file multiple claims, the process is likely to be much more complicated, and probably will be required to prove that the injuries claimed arose from the same accident. Waiting to file also will allow you to obtain additional medical opinions regarding your injuries, including a more thorough assessment of future medical needs.
If it turns out your injuries could require lifelong treatment, it’s better to know that earlier rather than later, especially as it relates to getting insurance payments for that treatment. Finally, taking your time allows you to make sure that you include all of your injuries and care needs in one claim. Your insurance company might allow later claims, but a single claim is considerably less complicated.
Obviously, waiting to file your claim exposes you to financial risk. Your bills will pile up with no insurance support to pay them. If you were at fault in the accident, you also could be responsible for the medical bills of any of your passengers injured in the accident, as well as the other driver and any passengers who might have been injured in his car. Waiting to file under those circumstances could leave you responsible for several people’s medical bills without insurance support to pay them.
While other parties injured likely would file claims against your insurance company, if you did not file a claim, you could face medical bills you can’t pay. This could damage your credit standing. However, filing too soon could leave you responsible for ongoing expenses that weren’t a part of your initial claim that the insurance company could deny in later claims. There is a balance to waiting until later and waiting until too late when filing against your own insurance—but don’t try to engage in this balancing act without a car accident lawyer’s help.
If fault in the accident is not clear, or it and you could potentially be held at fault, an earlier claim probably would be to your advantage. With no guarantee that any other insurance will be available, you want to be sure that insurance money is paying for injury treatments to others as soon as possible, especially if you might ultimately be liable for those injuries.
However, if you are filing against the other driver’s insurance, the equation changes a bit. If the other driver was at fault, you always have the option of a lawsuit in your pocket. If another party is liable for your injuries, complying with that party’s insurance rules on filing for damages is not really an issue. In a lawsuit, you can recover for whatever damages you can prove, not whatever damages you claimed within some arbitrary insurance deadline.
At that point, you are bound only by the statute of limitations for making personal injury claims. So long as you file a lawsuit within that time period required by law, be it one year, two, three, five, or six, then you still may legally recover your damages. Then the issue becomes not whether you filed your claims on time with your insurance company, but whether you filed your lawsuit on time under your state’s statute of limitations for personal injury claims, and whether you can prove the extent of your injuries and the cost required to treat those injuries, both in the past and in the future, if necessary. Those are completely different questions from whether you filed your insurance claims on time.
The most effective way to ensure that your claim is filed on time is by retaining a lawyer as soon as you can after your accident. To protect your rights, contact an attorney near you today.
Brauns Law, P.C.
3175 Satellite Boulevard, Bldg 600
Duluth, GA 30096