One of the first questions many people have an injury is, “How long do I have to make a personal injury claim?” While that’s an extremely important piece of information to know, it can also be misleading—and in some ways, the wrong question to ask.
Here’s the short answer: In most cases, you have two years from the date of your accident to file a personal injury lawsuit. While there are some rare exceptions that we’ll get into later, this is the general rule that will apply in most cases.
The longer answer, however, is more complicated. But the key takeaway is that you probably don’t have as much time as you think you do.
What Does “Statute of Limitations” Really Mean?
In simple terms, the statute of limitations is a deadline to file a lawsuit against a person, organization, or another entity who caused your car accident, truck wreck, or another personal injury incident. If you miss the deadline, you could lose your right to compensation.
It’s worth noting that not all personal injury claims result in a lawsuit. When cases are straightforward and facts are clear, we can often negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance company without suing them.
However, the risk of potential legal action encourages insurance companies to negotiate and settle claims. Once they know you can’t take them to court, your leverage is gone, and you will almost certainly end up walking away with nothing—no matter how severe your injuries or how righteous your cause.
Taking a Closer Look at the Texas Personal Injury Statute of Limitations
The rules governing the Texas statute of limitations for personal injury can be found in Chapter 16, section 16.003 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
For most personal injury and wrongful death cases, the two-year statute of limitations’ “clock” starts counting down on the date of the “action accrues.” This can mean different things under certain circumstances.
- Personal injury: In most claims, the action accrues on the date of the accident.
- Wrongful death: Typically, the statute of limitations starts running on the date of death, even if the victim survived for days, weeks, or longer after the initial accident that was the root cause of their death.
This deadline is for filing a lawsuit, not finishing it. It may take longer than two years to resolve your case, but it must begin within the two-year window.
Exceptions to the Rule
There are some specific circumstances where the statute of limitations can be reduced or extended. A few of the most notable include:
- Cases against government entities: If the defendant is a government entity (for example, you were injured in an accident with a city-owned bus), you must file notice of your claim within six months.
- Injuries to minor children: The clock doesn’t start to count down until the child’s 18th birthday. Kids have until their 20th birthday to file a lawsuit for a personal injury accident that occurred before they turned 18.
- Undiscovered injuries: Sometimes, a person may have no reasonable way to know that an injury was the result of negligence until much later. For example, you might be harmed by prescription medication that was later found to be unsafe, or exposure to workplace chemicals that directly led to disease or disability several years later. In these situations, a court may agree to extend the deadline to two years from the moment the negligence was discovered (the “Discovery Rule.”) However, courts often rule against injury victims, claiming that they could have discovered the negligence earlier if they had done their due diligence.
- Sexual offenses: Adult victims of sexual abuse or assault have five years to file a civil lawsuit from the date of the attack. Minor victims have 30 years from the date of their 18th birthday. (This was increased from the previous statute of 15 years in 2019.)
Despite the existence of these and other potential exceptions, it’s wise to assume that you don’t qualify for an extension. Working with an attorney as soon as possible is the best way to ensure your case moves forward, necessary evidence is collected, and no important deadlines are missed.
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Why Time May Be Running Out Faster Than You Think
Learning that the statute of limitations is two years gives many victims a false sense of security about their personal injury case. Two years seems like a long time—you can take a few months to settle down or try to handle your case on your own, right?
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking can easily wreck your entire case. One of the saddest things a personal injury lawyer sometimes has to do is tell an injured person that the time or the evidence just isn’t there for a successful case. And this happens a lot more often than you might think.
Why the rush? There are a few big reasons, but in short:
- You can collect more, and better, evidence.
- You may be able to avoid a lawsuit entirely.
- If you do need to file a lawsuit, your attorney can file it at the best time, and not just “before the deadline.”
Let’s break these down a bit further.
Delaying Could Mean Permanent Loss of Important Evidence
You may have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit, but that doesn’t mean the evidence you need to prove your case is going to stick around until you or your attorney start your investigation.
If you call a Texas personal injury attorney right away after an accident, they can get to work collecting the evidence before it’s lost. Ideally, they’ll even be able to send an investigator directly to the scene of the crash to photograph and analyze vehicle damage, debris, skid marks, and other physical evidence before it gets moved, cleaned up, or repaired.
There may be other sources of evidence you might not be aware of right away too.
- Dashcam footage from another vehicle
- Security camera footage from a nearby residence or business
- Logbooks from a commercial driver
- Cell phone and GPS data
Over time, this information can disappear. If you don’t identify and protect it quickly, it could be deleted or destroyed—along with your best chance at fair compensation.
Similarly, if you don’t seek out medical care as soon as possible after an accident, you can weaken your case. Every time you see a doctor, you generate medical records that detail your symptoms and medical needs. Good documentation makes it much easier to prove that your symptoms are crash-related and that they are as severe as you say they are.
An experienced attorney will have knowledge of, and connections with, the local healthcare community and give you the guidance you need to ensure that you’re getting the medical treatment you need, and you’re generating the medical records necessary to prove the cause and severity of your injuries.
Personal Injury Cases Often Require Significant Pre-Litigation Investigation, Preparation, and Negotiation
Your attorney’s job is to build you the best possible case—one that gives you the best possible chance at not only getting a settlement, but getting a just and fair settlement. To do that, you need to give them time.
At Crosley Law, we’ve worked on cases where we had to read thousands of pages of medical records and scientific research to ensure we fully understood our clients’ medical situation and could communicate it in plain English to an insurance company or jury. We’ve handled cases where we’ve had to hire a dozen or more expert witnesses in fields like economics, traffic engineering, life care planning, and neuroscience. And we’ve worked on cases where we personally interviewed dozens of witnesses, friends, and colleagues.
These kinds of investigations can’t be completed in a weekend. Just acquiring and reviewing existing medical records and police reports will take some time, even for relatively simple cases.
Furthermore, there’s typically some back and forth between your attorney and the insurance company even before a lawsuit is filed. Both sides present evidence, make their offers or demands, and negotiate. Quite often, personal injury cases are settled during the pre-litigation phase, without even needing to sue the insurance company. This, of course, saves you the time, expense, and anxiety of lawsuit. But this may not be an option if you’re too close to the filing deadline.
Simply put, the more lead time you give your attorney to do the work, the better the chances that they’ll be able to accurately calculate the amount of damages you can claim, build you a strong case, and negotiate a great settlement on your behalf.
Injured? Call Crosley Law Today
If you or a loved one have been hurt in an accident that wasn’t your fault, the clock is already ticking on your opportunity to get fair compensation.
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 16.003. Retrieved from https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/SDocs/CIVILPRACTICEANDREMEDIESCODE.pdf
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
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