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Car Accident Statute of Limitations in North Carolina

If you were hurt in a car accident in North Carolina, you may have a right to pursue compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company for your medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. North Carolina law imposes a deadline, known as a statute of limitations, for filing a personal injury lawsuit after a car crash. The court is likely to dismiss cases filed after the deadline.

You may ask – “Why is it important when I have to file a lawsuit? I only want to settle my claim with the liability insurance company.” The answer is that the only reason any insurance company will pay you one dollar is to avoid a verdict from a trial. The threat of that verdict is the only leverage you have to negotiate with. If the statute of limitations runs without you having either settled the claim or properly filed a complaint (the lay term is lawsuit), the adjuster can simply close the file without paying you anything.

In North Carolina, the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit is generally three years from the date of the injury. That limit is different in different states. In some states it may be only one or two years.

Because you have limited time to pursue a car accident injury claim, you should speak with a North Carolina car accident lawyer as soon as possible about your legal options. A knowledgeable personal injury attorney will act quickly to gather and preserve evidence and track down witnesses to develop the strongest claim possible to seek fair compensation from the at-fault party.

Why Is There a Deadline to File a Claim?

The law imposes deadlines on filing personal injury lawsuits after car accidents for several reasons. First, deadlines encourage the car accident cases are heard before evidence is lost or witnesses’ memories fade.

Second, the statute of limitations provides finality for potential defendants. Once the statute of limitations expires on a given claim, a potential defendant can move forward with assurance that they will not face financial liability long after an accident took place.

Of course, the statute of limitations also presents challenges to injured parties seeking rightful compensation. If the victim has serious, long-term injuries, three years may not be enough time to accurately assess future medical bills.

Applicable Statute of Limitations in North Carolina

North Carolina has the following statutes of limitation that impose time limits on bringing claims that may arise from a car accident:

  • Personal Injury: Under North Carolina law, you have three years after a car accident to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver or other liable parties to seek compensation for your medical bills, future medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses you sustained in the crash.
  • Damage to Personal Property: North Carolina’s statute of limitations also allows three years to file a lawsuit and seek reimbursement for damage to your motor vehicle and other personal property caused by a car accident. This includes the cost of repairing your wrecked vehicle or reimbursement for the value of your car if totaled by the accident.
  • Wrongful Death: If your family has lost a loved one in a car accident due to someone else’s wrongful act, you may have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim against the negligent individual or business. North Carolina law gives you two years from the date of your family member’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

When a car accident lawsuit is filed after the filing deadline, the other driver’s insurance company lawyer can file a motion to dismiss the case, regardless of how badly you were injured or how reckless the defendant’s actions were. For this reason, car accident victims must file their lawsuits within the time allowed by the applicable time limit. Don’t delay in contacting a North Carolina car accident lawyer to discuss whether you have a valid car accident claim.

Is the Statute of Limitations Deadline Set in Stone?

Any personal injury lawsuit filed after the deadline risks dismissal by the court. However, the court may extend the statute of limitations in a car accident case under certain circumstances. For example, when a minor suffers injuries in a car accident, the statute of limitations for their pain and suffering does not begin to run on their 18th birthday. However, since the parents are usually liable for the child’s medical bills, the parents’ right to pursue the child’s medical bills runs three years after the date of the accident, regardless of the child’s age.

Even if the insurance adjuster lulls you into a false sense of security or unreasonably delays in settling with you, causing you to not file a lawsuit within the three years, the judge will still dismiss the lawsuit if not filed in time.

Does the Statute of Limitations Apply to Insurance Claims?

Insurance companies settle most car insurance claims against their policyholders outside of court rather than risk the uncertainty of a trial. A settlement means that the insurer agrees to pay the accident victim a certain amount of money in exchange for the victim waiving their right to file a lawsuit against the insurer.

Most auto accident lawsuits start out as car insurance claims and only become lawsuits when the insurance company refuses to settle the claim for a reasonable amount of money. In other words, if the insurance company refuses to pay you the fair value of your claim, you may need to file a lawsuit to compel them to do so.

An experienced attorney will keep in mind the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit while negotiating with the at-fault driver’s insurance company to try to reach a settlement. If the insurance claim settlement process is protracted, a North Carolina car accident lawyer may need to file a personal injury lawsuit to protect the accident victim’s right to take legal action, if a settlement cannot be reached.

How Much Time Does a Lawyer Need Before the Statute of Limitations Runs?

You cannot wait until the day before the statute of limitations runs to contact a lawyer. Most reputable law firms require at least six months to a year before the statute runs in order to make sure things are done correctly. Once the statute runs, mistakes cannot be corrected. What if the names on the police report are incorrect?  What if the reason the other driver rear ended you is because he just left the brake shop that did a bad job, causing the brakes to fail?  If the lawsuit if filed just before the statute runs, you cannot sue the brake shop, and the other driver may then have a valid defense. A good lawyer will not want to take that malpractice risk.

Get Help from Our Car Accident Attorneys

Hurt in a car accident in North Carolina? Don’t risk missing the deadline for filing personal injury claims imposed by the North Carolina statute of limitations. Seek the legal guidance of a North Carolina car accident attorney with Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. immediately to get your claim filed on time. After a serious car accident, call our firm today at 919-611-9000 for a free consultation with a car accident lawyer to discuss your options.

About the Author

Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A.
At Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., our clients work closely with a legal team that is dedicated to providing outstanding client service and unflinching legal representation. The majority of our attorneys and support staff have worked with our firm for many years.

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