I didn't file a claim when the crash happened, is it too late for me to get compensation?

If you were involved in a car accident several months ago, you may worry that it is too late to file a claim for your accident. The answer is it is not too late.

However, like so many legal questions, the answer is not just a yes or no. It is more of an “it depends” response.

We asked an attorney, Alaina Sullivan, for some more clarification on the issue. Here's what she said:

Know Your Insurance Terms

Most insurance policies do not put a time limit or deadline on filing your claim. It is usually stated that you should “promptly” or file your claim as soon as possible. That opens the door up for arguing over what exactly promptly means.

However, do not assume your policy is so vague. You could have explicit time limits given in your policy so be sure you do review those immediately following your accident.

Know Your Statute of Limitations

However, while your insurance policy might not have an explicit deadline, this does not mean that your state has no limit. You should always research your state’s statute of limitations should you need to pursue legal action for your damages following a car accident.

Most states give you a two-year statute of limitations from the date of the accident, and if you unknowingly wait too long, you could find yourself completely barred from pursuing compensation for your injuries.

A Lawyer Explains Filing Your Claim Months after it Happened

Damages to Your Vehicle

It is never recommended that you wait too long to file a claim with your insurance company for damages to your vehicle. The downside to waiting too long before reporting damages to your car to your insurance company is the insurance company may simply not believe you.

Your car insurance company might try to argue with you on the extent of your vehicle’s damages if you were involved in a car accident months prior. Unless you get proof of what the damages to your car looked like immediately following the accident, you might receive some pushback from the insurance company on whether those damages came from the accident or were a result from later damage following the incident.

Insurance companies will look for ways to avoid having to pay as much as possible, so you should not be surprised if they are skeptical of the timeline for the damage.

Medical Damages

When it comes to damages to your vehicle, you know what they are. However, when it comes to damages to your physical being, you may not know the extent of your injuries right away. In fact, if you are filing a claim regarding damages to you personally that resulted in you being hospitalized or needing to seek medical treatment, you may choose to not do this right away.

In car accidents, many times the injuries are not known immediately. Soft-tissue injuries, like whiplash, are one of the most common injuries involved in accidents, and these injuries do not show up as soon as the accident happen. They often result in long-term or permanent muscle injuries.

Preserving Evidence

Prior to filing your claim, make sure you have all the documentation you need. If you do not have a police report from your accident and you wait too long to file, the insurance company will also have a harder time putting together the events of what happened.

Finding witnesses and getting their statements who were present during the accident will be difficult, and finding other research on the incident could be next to impossible.

What If My Policy Expires Before I Make My Claim?

Keep in mind that if your insurance policy expires after your car accident but prior to when you file a claim, your insurance company will still be obligated to cover damages from your accident. Do not let your insurance company tell you otherwise.

Getting Rear Ended While Stopped

If you were in your car and were rear ended when you were stopped, you may have been injured and your car damaged. As long as you weren’t stopped illegally, e.g. on a highway without lights on at night, you probably have very good grounds to seek compensation from the driver who hit you. Compensation should be sought to cover any medical costs resulting from the rear ended accident, damage to the car and an amount for the physical pain and psychological and emotional stress that the accident caused.

Injuries After a Rear Ended Accident While Stopped

Most rear ended accidents are unexpected and it is likely that you would not be prepared for the sudden jolt when the other vehicle crashed into you. When these sorts of accidents happen, it tends to throw your body forwards violently, especially your head and neck.

This is then followed by a backwards movement. The upper part of your body could have been badly injured by such an accident, especially if you had parked the car and had removed your seat belt.

Whatever injuries you sustained in a rear ended accident, you should ensure you get medical treatment and an assessment of your injuries by a doctor. You will need confirmation of the severity of the injuries and medical documentation showing the treatment received and what this will cost you. You will need all of this to support a personal injury claim made to the other driver’s insurer.

Typical injuries after a rear ended accident while stopped include:

  • facial injuries if your face hits the windshield, especially cuts and gashes;
  • head injuries if your head hits a solid part of the inside of the car;
  • whiplash, a potentially serious neck injury caused by the violent forwards and backwards movement of your head and neck;
  • chest injuries if your chest hits the steering wheel, especially broken ribs and internal damage to body organs, including heart and lungs.

Be Wary About Accepting an Early Offer Made by the Other Driver’s Insurer

Insurance companies are rarely keen to pay full compensation after any kind of car accident. Clear proof that their client was at fault will certainly help, but insurance adjusters may still contest claims presented to them. They may make an attempt to offer a lower amount in the hope that you are keen to settle quickly.

Even if you are tempted to take any amount offered by the other driver’s insurer if this happens soon after you have filed your claim, you are better off contacting a personal injury attorney for advice and legal help with your claim. The greater the damage to your vehicle and the more serious your injuries, the more important it is to prepare your claim carefully and as fully as possible.

An attorney will know what compensation you can claim for the “pain and suffering” component and may suggest claiming punitive damages if the driver’s actions were particularly negligent, e.g. if the driver was drunk or speeding. Most personal injury attorneys will provide a free consultation and defer legal fees until a payment is made.

When is it Too Late to Get a Lawyer for a Car Accident?

There are two main reasons for getting a lawyer to help you after a car accident as early as possible. The first is that you will need evidence to establish a case for a personal injury claim and this is always easier to obtain immediately after an accident rather than leaving it too long.

A lawyer can help you obtain evidence that can support a claim, especially if experts are needed to identify crash information and find medical professionals who can provide useful information about your medical condition and what the long term prognosis might be. In some cases, evidence from security cameras and even cell phone use can be sought with the help of a lawyer.

The second main reason that can help answer the question of when is it too late to get a lawyer for a car accident is that all states have statutes of limitations for personal injury claims. These determine a finite time within which a claim can be made.

Each state has its own statute of limitations, but the majority of these statutes tend to be in the two to three year range from the date of the accident. It makes sense to reach out to a lawyer sooner rather than later, as professional legal help can increase your chances of obtaining suitable compensation for an accident that wasn’t your fault.

Getting Legal Help

A licensed personal injury attorney will be able to evaluate your case and determine if you have a claim against the other party’s insurance company. For the best chance of receiving the compensation you need to pay for medical bills, auto body bills, and pain and suffering, you should speak with a personal injury attorney in your area today.