If you’ve been the unfortunate victim of a car accident that wasn’t your fault, it’s important to fully understand any restrictions on bringing a claim or lawsuit. This guide details how long you have to file a car accident claim in Houston, Texas.
Car Accident Statistics
Every year, thousands of people are injured in road traffic accidents across the United States. Statistics indicate that there are, on average, 6 million car accidents each year around the nation, with 3 million people injured in such accidents every year. Figures suggest that 2 million people around the United States suffer permanent injuries every year because of car accidents and that, statistically, 90 people die on America’s roads every single day.
In 2020, Texas reported the second-highest number of fatal car crashes. The 2020 figure of 3,896 increased to 4,489 in 2021. Additionally, there was at least one death on Texas’s roads every day throughout 2021. Aside from fatalities, 15,764 crashes across the state resulted in serious injuries, with almost 19,500 people injured.
Automobile accidents are the leading cause of personal injury claims throughout the United States; Texas is no exception.
Claim vs. Lawsuit
Simply put, a claim is a demand for compensation following an injury caused in full or partly by another person. Often in the case of road traffic accidents, claims are handled by insurance companies. Negotiations and settlements take place outside of the courtroom setting.
A lawsuit is, in essence, a claim filed to be decided by a court. The legal process involves several stages, such as filings, pleadings, motions, and judgments. The injured party must prove several elements, including a breach of an owed duty of care, causation, and the extent of all physical, emotional, and financial losses incurred by accident. Not all lawsuits end up in the courtroom; legal representatives often can settle through negotiations.
The Statute of Limitations in Texas
In Texas, most personal injury claims, including claims arising from car accidents, become statute-barred after two years. An injured party must formally begin their claim by filing a lawsuit before the time runs out. The statute of limitation can bar a claim in texas if the appropriate period has expired.
While Texas’s statute of limitations only applies to legal proceedings, insurance companies and other non-legal bodies won’t look into claims that are time-barred by the statutes of limitations. Furthermore, insurance companies can set individual time limits for processing accident claims.
The clock starts ticking from the car accident date, meaning you must file your lawsuit within two years. Courts will not typically decide on lawsuits filed late; this does not mean the other party is without blame, but it does mean that a court will not decide the issue or award any compensation or damages. A court may dismiss the case or render judgment for the defendant because the case was not brought timely.
If a person dies due to a car accident, the statute of limitations provides two years from the date of the accident that caused the wrongful death for loved ones to bring a claim. But do not wait to hire a wrongful death lawyer. The earlier you get a skilled attorney, the better for your case.
Should I Wait for Insurance Claims to Be Decided?
Many car accident victims start damage claims through their insurance companies, like Liberty Mutual.
It’s vital to remember that the 2-year statute of limitations for filing claims related to car accidents starts on the date of the accident. A judge does not have the legal authority to consider delayed or denied insurance claims.
If an insurance company acts slowly or refuses to deal with a claim, seek legal advice as soon as possible. Discuss your case with a knowledgeable car accident personal injury lawyer.
Exceptions to the General Statue of Limitations in Texas
There are further situations where the statute of limitations may be paused. These include:
The Victim is a Minor
The age of majority in Texas is 18. People below this age cannot legally engage in a lawsuit on their own behalf. If a minor wishes to claim for a car accident, the statute of limitations is paused until they reach the age of majority. On their 18th birthday, the statute clock begins ticking; they then have two years to start a lawsuit claim.
Practically, many families file claims earlier for underage car accident victims. A parent or legal guardian can begin a lawsuit on the minor’s behalf.
The Victim is Mentally Incapacitated
So long as mental disability did not arise from the accident in question, the 2-year statute of limitations does not apply to car accident victims who are mentally incapacitated.
Note: If the accident caused mental disability, the victim is still bound by the 2-year limitation period, running from the date of the accident.
The Victim is Filing a Claim Against a Government Body
Shorter claim deadlines generally apply if the proposed defendant in a Texas car accident claim is a governmental body.
Under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA), claimants must notify the relevant government department before six months elapses, as timed from the date of the accident. Exceptions may apply in specific situations. Certain government departments have even shorter periods for pursuing claims against them. For instance, the City of Houston has a 90-day notice requirement.
If your accident involved a government body, you should seek immediate advice from a Houston car accident lawyer.
Vehicle Insurance Laws in Texas
In Texas, it’s mandatory that drivers can prove they can pay for any automobile accidents they cause. It’s common for people to prove this by having car insurance. Insurance typically pays for vehicle repairs or replacements, repairs to other property damaged due to the collision, and victims’ medical costs.
Legally, drivers must have a minimum coverage of $30,000 for each person’s injuries (with a minimum total of $60,000 for each accident) and $25,000 for property damage. Drivers can also opt to purchase policies that include enhanced coverage.
How Are Car Accident Claims Resolved in Houston?
Sometimes, car crash claims are easily resolved via insurance companies without legal intervention or assistance. For non-injury accidents, most people file a claim without an attorney.
In a personal injury case, victims need professional legal assistance to ensure they get the result and compensation they deserve. That can include hiring an attorney to file a lawsuit.
Filing a lawsuit for a car accident does not automatically mean that you will need to attend court; many cases are settled before the matter reaches the trial stage.
Your lawyer will typically need to complete several steps to resolve your car accident claim:
Investigating the Facts
After you’ve retained a lawyer, they must complete investigations into your accident. Investigations can involve visiting the place of the car crash, discussing relevant details with you, and interviewing witnesses to the accident. Witnesses may, for example, be other occupants of your vehicle, civilian bystanders, police officers, and medical personnel. Essentially, these investigations allow your lawyer to understand the details and merits of your case fully.
Following preliminary investigations, your lawyer will need to gather pertinent evidence. This can include:
- Witness statements
- Police accident report
- CCTV footage of the accident
- Photographs of the accident scene
- Medical records
- Details about income loss
In Texas, your lawyer must be able to prove the other party caused the accident. Even if you are partly responsible for the crash, this doesn’t automatically remove liability from another party. Your lawyer can explain how liability is proportioned and the impact this would likely have on your compensation figure.
Your Houston car accident lawyers will need to perform detailed calculations based on evidence to ascertain the correct level of damages due. They will consider both economic and non-financial losses.
Negotiating with the Other Party
Your lawyer can negotiate with the other party with all the evidence. Depending on the situation, this may be an insurance adjuster, a lawyer for the defendant, or the defendant. Negotiations can take several months to conclude.
During negotiations, the defendant or their representative may make one or more offers to settle the claim. You and your lawyer must decide if you will accept such offers. Typically, initial offers are below what you deserve. A skilled car accident lawyer can help you understand and navigate this process.
Many claims settle satisfactorily during this negotiation stage. Personal injury attorneys always calendar the statutes of limitations for car accident claims.
Filing a Lawsuit
If negotiations fail to reach a satisfactory conclusion, your lawyer will likely recommend filing a lawsuit. You may still, however, settle a claim before it reaches trial. Your lawyer will file the lawsuit before the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Occasionally, car accident claims reach the courtroom. If this happens, your lawyer will set out the details of your claim, along with all supporting evidence. After hearing from legal representatives from each side, a judge or a jury will make the final decision on a car accident claim.