There are no two car accident cases which are ever exactly alike. However, many of them do share similar legal factors and claims.
For example, negligence is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents. In some cases, only one of the drivers involved in the accident may be at fault.
In other cases, there may be multiple drivers that are held responsible for the accident. Negligence claims may arise in several different situations, for example, when a driver does not stop to look both ways at a stop sign before driving off or if they are texting while driving instead of paying attention to the road.
Other common examples of issues which may result in car accident legal disputes include, but are not limited to:
- Bad weather;
- Bad road conditions;
- Defects in the vehicle or mechanical issues;
- Poor visibility;
- Driving under the influence (DUI); and
- Various other unpredictable factors.
Although the examples listed above provide a common list of the factors which often cause accidents, there may also be other issues which arise, including:
- Disputes regarding the amount of damages that are awarded in the case;
- Conflicting reports regarding the accident itself and how it occurred;
- Problems with insurance claims, and
- Whether the individual being sued is the right individual to bring a lawsuit against or if another party should be the one held liable instead, for example, a manufacturer instead of a defendant driver.
Additionally, in some cases, there may be a combination of other legal issues in addition to the personal injury claim. For example, if the driver who caused the accident was intoxicated, they may also be charged with the crime of drunk driving.
In those cases, the defendant will likely face both civil and criminal penalties.
What is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a period of time in which an individual may file a lawsuit. If an individual tries to file a lawsuit once this time period has passed, then they are barred by the legal system from filing that lawsuit.
In other words, the individual is not legally permitted to sue the defendant for their injuries. Their only recourse is a settlement with the insurance company.
One of the main purposes of the statute of limitations is to protect defendants from untimely litigation. The statute of limitations allows a plaintiff to pursue a valid claim against a defendant, but only when that plaintiff exercises due diligence in timely filing their claim.
What is considered a timely filing of the claim will vary depending on the state where the claim is filed and the type of claim which is filed. For example, in Texas, the typical statute of limitations for a plaintiff to file a civil lawsuit is 2 years from the date of the incident.
There are three main reasons for the enactment of statutes of limitations, including:
- The statute forces a plaintiff with a valid cause of action to bring the claim timely;
- Bringing an untimely claim may result in the loss of evidence by a defendant which is necessary to defend themselves against the plaintiff’s claim; and
- Litigating a long-dormant claim can result in more cruelty than justice.
When Does Time Begin to Run on Statute of Limitations?
The United States Supreme Court has held numerous times that the standard rule for when the statute of limitations begins to fund is when the plaintiff has a “complete and present cause of action.” A statute of limitations usually begins when a harmful event, such as a crime or injury, occurs, or when a plaintiff discovers the injury, such as in cases of fraud.
If a lawsuit is commenced after the statute of limitations has run, the claim will most likely be thrown out of court with a simple motion filed by the defendant. In some cases, however, the close may pause for a period of time, known as “tolling the limitations.”
In a criminal case, for example, if the defendant commits a crime and then flees, which results in the defendant becoming a fugitive of the state, the state will suspend the statute of limitations for the time period during which the fugitive was on the run. This means that a prosecutor will be permitted to bring criminal charges forward once the fugitive is caught, not counting the time the defendant spent on the run.
In addition, in cases where the plaintiff is a minor, meaning they are under the age of majority in their state at the time, there are numerous states which allow tolling of the statute until the plaintiff reaches the age of majority. It may even be possible in cases of private civil matter for the statute of limitations to be lengthened or shortened by an agreement of both sides of the case.
What is the Virginia Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents?
When an individual is attempting to settle their car accident claim in the State of Virginia, it is important for them to consider the statute of limitations. Not every insurance company will provide a fair settlement.
Therefore, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit to claim what rightfully belongs to an injured party. In the State of Virginia, there are 3 separate statute of limitations laws that an individual should consider whenever they are involved in a car accident.
Per the Code of Virginia § 8.01-243, any individual who is injured in a car accident is required to file their lawsuit within 2 years of the date of the automobile accident. This includes:
- A driver;
- A passenger;
- A pedestrian; or
- A bicyclist.
If, however, the individual is only claiming property damage, the statute of limitations is longer and is 5 years from the time of the accident. Therefore, if an individual was in an automobile accident which resulted in both property damage and physical injuries they are required to file their lawsuit for personal injuries within 2 years of the accident and to file their lawsuit for property damage within 5 years of the accident.
Pursuant to the Code of Virginia § 8.01-244, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit is 2 years from the date of death. Therefore, if a victim dies in an automobile accident, then their family is required to file their lawsuit within 2 years of the individual’s death. If not, then the family will not be able to sue the defendant and receive compensation for their loss.
Should I Consult an Attorney in Virginia?
If you have been involved in an automobile accident in Virginia, it may be very helpful to consult with a Virginia car accident attorney, even if you do not believe you need to file a lawsuit. Your attorney can advise you of the laws in Virginia which may apply to your case as well as inform you what damages may be available to you if you do file a lawsuit.
Your attorney can also assist you with negotiating a fair settlement with the insurance company to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. In addition, if you decide to negotiate a settlement with the other driver involved, your attorney can represent you during a mediation or other type of alternative dispute resolution method.