What is the statute of limitations? It bars a claim after a certain period of time has passed. When the statute of limitations begins, the clock starts ticking from the time of the injury or when the plaintiff should have reasonably known of the injury or property damage.
Typical exceptions to the statute of limitations
While some states have their own specific exceptions created by statute or contract, there are universal exceptions that can toll the statute of limitations and extend the filing date beyond the statutory period.
The defendant has left the state: If the defendant isn't there to file a claim against, then how are you going to win your case? You can't file against a ghost. The courts understand this, and they give some leniency in terms of waiting for your defendant to come back to town.
The defendant is a minor/legally incompetent/legally unfit to stand trial: The statute of limitations is tolled until the incompetency is removed or the minor reaches age 18.
The defendant is dead or imprisoned: You can bring a claim against the defendant's estate. If the defendant is imprisoned, you can wait until he has made parole.
At war/active military duty: Courts generally wait until the state is no longer embattled for suits to continue. Likewise, if a party is on active military duty, the statute of limitations is tolled until he or she returns.
Tolling agreements: Both sides can enter a tolling agreement in order to waive the statute of limitations. This preserves the right to file for the plaintiff and can actually minimize court costs for the defendants because the certainty of the agreement allows both sides to clearly assess their positions and conduct effective negotiations.
Equitable tolling: This is when the plaintiff could not reasonably have discovered the cause of action, despite due diligence on his part, until after the statute of limitations period had passed (for example, an asbestos claim in which the plaintiff did not discover his cancer until 20 years later).
When the car accident statutes of limitations may be shorter
Car accidents involving a government entity
Depending on where an accident occurred (and, most importantly, with whom), the statute of limitations might be shortened dramatically. A government employee might also have immunity from suits. Some states only offer a six-month window in which to file a claim, and many have other state-specific pre-filing requirements. If these are not followed, a case can be barred entirely. See more about how to collect damages in a lawsuit involving a government vehicle.
Car accidents involving dram shop laws
Dram shop laws vary from state to state, with 43 states having adopted some form and allowing a degree of liability against drinking establishments that allow visibly intoxicated patrons to drive away drunk. Some states only allow 60 days before a claim is barred. If you have been injured, speak to an attorney in your state as soon as practicable.