Atlanta's car accident attorney, Nathan Fitzpatrick, is a leading Atlanta personal injury lawyer. Specializing in motor vehicle accidents and car crashes, he's a trusted auto accident lawyer among Atlanta car accident lawyers.

Timing is Key: How Long After an Accident Can You File a Claim?

How Long After an Accident Can You File a Claim against auto insurance company

If you’ve been involved in an accident, you may have cause to file a claim. However, it’s critical that you understand that Georgia state law imposes a statute of limitations on lawsuits involving an accident. In most cases, you’ll have two years from the date of your injury to officially file your claim.

There are, of course, some specific hurdles to consider, along with associated laws that can impact your case. Fortunately, Atlanta auto accident attorney Nathan Fitzpatrick is here to help! He is an experienced Atlanta personal injury lawyer who has handled hundreds of different injury-related cases.

Here, Attorney Fitzpatrick explains the importance of getting your lawsuit underway quickly and what legal obstacles you’ll have to overcome to have a solid claim.  

The Importance of Timing in Legal Matters

Timing is critical when you file a personal injury lawsuit after a car accident. First of all, you must ensure you meet the state’s statute of limitations. In other words, your case must be filed within two years.

One reason you’ll want to begin your case right away is that the longer you wait, the harder it can be to find witnesses who can truly remember what took place. Ideally, you’ll want your attorney to reach out to potential witnesses while the incident is still fresh in their minds.

Keep in mind that the paperwork process of filing your claim may take quite a while to pull together. For this reason, never wait until the last second to file your claim.

General Overview of Claim Deadlines

Importantly, you must have all your paperwork completed and your case filed within two years. There are a few exceptions to this deadline, though, as we’ll discuss in the next section.

The best way to make sure you take care of everything in a timely manner is to contact an attorney after you’ve received any necessary emergency medical care. Don’t wait! Time lost in a legal case represents the eroding of memories, paperwork, etc.

Understanding the Legal Time Frame

You’ll need to stick to the state’s legal time frame. This means that you absolutely must have your case filed in court within two years. If you miss the two-year cut-off by even a day, the judge will not accept your case.

What is a Statute of Limitations?

Every state has a statute of limitations on most legal cases. Essentially, it means that if you fail to file your claim within the predesignated period, your claim will not be accepted.

Reasons for Time Restrictions in Filing Claims

The statute of limitations has been put in place to remove the significant burden of having a potential lawsuit hanging over someone’s head for the rest of their life and make the court system move more quickly.

It is commonplace for the attorney on the opposite side of a case to raise questions about the validity of your claim based solely on the day of your injury. If you filed your case within two years, though, this legal tactic would not work.  

Other reasons that you don’t want to wait include your insurance company claiming you couldn’t have been “that injured” if you didn’t file your case right away.

Different Types of Accidents and Their Time Frames

Despite the law having a general timeframe of two years, some differences depend on the type of injury case you’re filing.

Car Accidents: When to Report and File

According to Georgia law, you must call 911 immediately to report an automobile accident and ensure a police report is generated. If you fail to report, you may have given away your legal right to pursue the responsible party. It’s also imperative to report your accident to your insurance company after the police take your statement and create a police report. Never agree to keep an accident “between us” with the other driver.

Keep in mind that the timeline for submitting a car insurance claim is separate from, and should never be confused with, the timeframe for initiating a lawsuit following a car accident. It's advisable to consult with an attorney promptly after an accident since it's the optimal course of action for managing both the car insurance claim process and legal proceedings efficiently. Allowing your lawyer sufficient time to construct a robust case before the expiration of your two-year timeframe for filing a car insurance claim is essential.

Slip and Fall Incidents: Not Always Straightforward

If you slipped and fell on someone else’s property, it should be an easy case, right? Well, this isn’t always the case. Slip and fall incidents fall under Georgia Code § 51-11-7, which states that you must not have been able to see and be able to reasonably avoid whatever caused your accident.  

Georgia Code § 51-12-33 may allow you to still allow you to collect some money, though. The judge must find that you were no more than 49% responsible for your injury. In these cases, the amount of money you can collect will be reduced by how much at fault you were. Therefore, if you sued for $100,000 and were found to be 20% at fault, you’d be eligible to receive $80,000.

Medical Malpractice: A Unique Set of Rules

Georgia Code § 9-3-71 provides some wiggle room for filing a medical malpractice claim. Basically, you still have two years to file a lawsuit unless your injury was not immediately evident. In those cases, your filing deadline may be extended to five years.

Workplace Accidents: Worker’s Compensation Considerations

Georgia’s workers are—for the most part—covered by worker’s compensation when they’re injured on the job. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy to collect, however. Speaking to a worker’s compensation lawyer is always in your best interests.

For instance, if your employer tries to claim that you weren’t following safety rules when you were injured but know you were, you will most likely have to fight to get what you deserve. The system is set up to frustrate you because your employer hopes you won’t pursue a case. Don’t let them off the hook so easily, though.

Product Liability: When Defective Products Cause Harm

Everyone is responsible for filing a claim when a defective product causes harm. After all, it was lawsuits that convinced the automobile industry to make their vehicles safer, which has since resulted in way fewer cases.

Four specific claims can be brought against defective products:

  1. Breach of Warranty – When the seller’s claims, promises, or representation of the product do not live up to the actual product.
  2. Negligence – When the employees of the manufacturer did something they shouldn’t have done and/or omitted to do something they should have done.
  3. Strict Tort Liability – Extends to everyone who was injured by the product, even if no fault has been proven in some cases.
  4. Misrepresentation – Sales promotion and/or advertising that provided consumers with a false sense of security about the product.

Factors Affecting the Deadline in a Car Accident

Remember toward the beginning of this article when we pointed out that “most” car accident injury cases are bound by a two-year statute of limitations? Let’s look at the following exceptions to this rule.

Date of Discovery: When You Realize the Injury

There are certain injuries that may not be obvious at first, including back injuries, soft tissue injuries, and concussions resulting from a car accident. If any of these apply to your particular car accident case, your deadline will be extended to two years after your date of discovery related to the car accident. This could add anywhere from a single day to several years onto your filing deadline in your car accident case.

Minors: How Age Can Extend the Time Frame

If you were a minor when you were injured in a car accident, you have the right to file a car accident lawsuit upon turning 18. It doesn’t matter if you were injured in a car accident a year ago or ten years ago; because minors can’t file a car accident lawsuit on their behalf, the deadline is extended until you’re legally able to file a car accident claim. For instance, if you were only 16 when the accident happened, the deadline for filing the lawsuit does not start until you turn 18.

Mental Incapacitation: Exceptions to the Rule

Anytime there’s a mental disability in the mix, it can make it impossible to file a claim within the original two-year period. You must be able to prove that this was the case, though.

When the Defendant is Out of State: Jurisdiction Matters

When someone lives out of state, it can seriously impede the legal process. On the bright side, the law gives you more time to find them and file your case. Georgia law § 40-12-2 dictates that your attorney must notify either:

  • The Secretary of State in whatever state they live in
  • A duly authorized agent
  • His/her successor in office

Once this is completed, you will have fulfilled your legal obligation to let the defendant know they’ve been named in a case.  

Statutory Timeframes for Claims in Different Accident Scenarios

When involved in an accident with a county or city vehicle, the window for filing a claim is limited to just six months. In the case of accidents involving state vehicles, you have a slightly more extended timeframe of one year to file your claim.

However, if your accident implicates a federal government vehicle, an administrative claim with the government is the initial step. While you typically have two years to initiate this administrative claim, it's important to note that should your claim be rejected, you'll be left with only six months to pursue the matter in court.

Consequences of Missing the Deadline

It may not seem fair, but sticking to a deadline is really the only way for the legal system to ensure it doesn’t become hopelessly backed up.

Loss of Legal Rights and Recourse

Failure to file a case within the statute of limitations will—in almost every single case—force you to give up your legal rights to any recourse. It doesn’t matter how injured you were or are.

The Role of Courts in Enforcing Deadlines

Georgia law § 15-1-3 dictates what laws govern every court in the State of Georgia. Enforcing deadlines is a critical piece of each court’s responsibilities. In fact, most judges will look at the dates involved before they do anything else. That way, they can dismiss those that aren’t in compliance with the applicable statute of limitations.

Exceptions: When Can You File After the Deadline?

To reiterate, you may file your case after the deadline if any of the following are applicable:

  • You didn’t discover your injury right away.
  • You were a minor at the time of the injury.
  • You were mentally incapacitated.
  • The responsible party lives out of state.

Tips for Timely Filing

Be sure to follow each of the following tips to ensure you file your case in a timely manner:

  1. Organize All Relevant Documentation
  2. Seek Legal Counsel Early
  3. Stay Proactive: Don’t Wait for the Last Minute
  4. Ensure Proper Notification of Involved Parties
car accident insurance claim vs legal insurance claims

Legal Vs. Car Insurance Claims

Read on to make sure you stay within the law while navigating the complex world of car insurance claims.

Car Insurance Claim Deadlines: Often Shorter Than Legal Deadlines

Your car insurance company will set the specific deadline you have to file an insurance claim with them. Generally speaking, here is the timeline:

  • 15 days to acknowledge your insurance claim.
  • 15 days to provide you with the proper forms for your insurance claim.
  • 15 days to accept or deny your insurance claim (after they’ve received the necessary forms).
  • 60 days to make a final decision on your insurance claim.
  • 10 days from the date of their decision to pay out your insurance claim.

Navigating Car Insurance Company Requirements

Ensure that you follow all tips for reporting an accident to your car insurance company. If you forget any steps along the way, it could back up—or even invalidate—your claim.

The Role of Your Own Insurance Company

After being involved in an auto accident in Georgia, your own insurance company plays a significant role in managing the aftermath. Understanding the steps involved and the role your insurer plays can be crucial in ensuring a smoother resolution to the situation.

You have three choices if you are injured in a car accident:

  • File a personal injury lawsuit.
  • Pursue a claim against the responsible driver’s insurer.
  • File a claim with your car insurance company, and they’ll go after the other driver's insurance company.

Legal Assistance: Maximizing Your Claim Potential

Without legal assistance, it will be quite difficult to determine what your claim is worth. Insurers tend to lowball people and may also try to drag the claim out. Most insurers will offer a higher settlement if an attorney is involved.

How Legal Professionals Navigate Time Constraints

Legal professionals are well aware of the time constraints on your case. Fortunately, they’ve got experience with pulling everything together quickly. They will use their assistants to do a lot of the digging for them, which means they can focus on the finer details.

Seeking Extensions: Is It Possible?

There is one more possible way to get an extension, but it requires there to have been fraud. Basically, if there was a fraudulent accident report or medical report—or if the other attorney told you something false—you can seek an extension.

Getting an extension based on fraud is a serious matter with potentially significant legal consequences, so it's essential to seek the assistance and expertise of a qualified attorney who can navigate the complexities of your case and guide you through the process effectively.

Navigating the Legal Claim Process

Now that we've explored the intricacies of the legal claims process, which includes understanding how car accident claims work, the statute of limitations, whether you're dealing with a car accident, slip and fall incident, medical malpractice, workplace injury, or product liability, it's evident that timing plays a pivotal role in the pursuit of justice.

The Crucial Nature of Timing in Legal Claims

In legal matters, every moment counts, especially within a car insurance company's claim process. Initiating your case promptly can be the key to a successful claim, ensuring that you adhere to the strict deadlines set by the law. These deadlines exist not only to maintain order in the legal system but also to preserve essential evidence and witness recollections crucial for your car insurance company claim.

Seeking legal counsel, even if you're uncertain about pursuing a case, is a wise move within the car accident claim process. Consulting an attorney can provide invaluable guidance tailored to your specific situation, helping you navigate the complexities of the claim process effectively. Additionally, navigating insurance company claims, with their unique deadlines and requirements, underscores the significance of prompt action and thorough documentation, integral elements of the claim process.

Being well-informed, seeking professional guidance, and adhering to deadlines are essential steps in pursuing a successful claim within the claim process. These actions not only safeguard your rights within the claim process but also pave the way for the justice and compensation you rightfully deserve.

Need Expert Guidance After An Auto Accident? Schedule Your Free Consultation with The Fitzpatrick Firm Today!

Were you injured in an auto accident or another type of accident? Confused about how the legal claim process works? The Fitzpatrick Firm is ready to help! Contact us today for a free legal consultation and learn how our experienced team specializes in handling extension cases and can provide expert guidance tailored to your specific situation. Call us at  (678) 607-5550 or fill out the form below.

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