What Is the Statute of Limitations in a Car Accident Claim?

Jason Hutzler November 25, 2022

Most car accidents are minor events without injuries or fatalities. Yet, many car accidents lead to injuries, some of which are severe or fatal. If you have sustained injuries in a car accident, Arizona law permits you to bring a lawsuit against another driver or party whose negligence led to the accident. However, you must take action before the statute of limitations runs out on your claim.

It’s in your best interest to contact a car accident injury lawyer as soon as possible to ensure you do not miss any deadlines, giving you the best chance of recovering maximum compensation for your car accident injuries. Until you have the chance to meet with an attorney, the following introductory information provides more details about Arizona statutes of limitations in car accident claims.

Defining a Statute of Limitations

In the most general sense, a statute of limitation is a law that governs the amount of time someone has to take legal action after an injury or a crime. Civil actions and criminal offenses have statutes of limitations that vary depending on the circumstances and differ among states.

In personal injury cases, like car accident claims, the statute of limitations is the length of time someone has to file a personal injury lawsuit against someone in civil court.

Once the statute of limitations runs out, Arizona law prohibits injured victims from seeking compensation for the accident and their injuries in civil court; a court typically dismisses a case without hearing it when a plaintiff misses the statute of limitations deadline. Arizona has multiple statutes of limitations for each type of case, including car accident claims.

Arizona Statutes of Limitations for Car Accidents

The specific Arizona statute of limitations that applies to a car accident claim varies based on the party your lawyer advises you to name in the lawsuit and whether the accident caused a fatality. In most cases, car accident victims have two years to take legal action.

However, here are the details for each type of claim:

  • Car accident injury claims. Under Arizona law, injured drivers who want to take legal action must bring a lawsuit within two years from the date of their car accident. It’s doubtful an Arizona court will hear the case once the two-year time limit expires. Some rare situations provide grounds for the court to make an exception, but this is highly unlikely.
  • Wrongful death car accident claims. Arizona law permits eligible surviving family members to bring a wrongful death claim against a negligent party if a loved one lost their life in a car accident. The statute of limitations for wrongful death car accident claims in Arizona is also two years.
  • Product liability injury claims. Car accidents that occur because of a defective vehicle or defective automobile parts like tires, brake pads, or airbags open automakers and parts manufacturers to liability for damages. The two-year statute of limitations applies to car accidents that result in injury or fatality.
  • Car accident claims against a government entity. If a car accident occurs with a city or state employee or results from poor road maintenance or improper traffic control, victims can sue the associated government entity for damages. However, car accident victims only have one year to take action against the City of Phoenix and other government entities and must file a Notice of Claim within six months from the date of their injuries.
  • Property damage claims. Those who wish to sue for property damage to their vehicle to repair damages or replace their totaled vehicle have two years to bring a lawsuit.

What Is the Statute of Limitations in a Car Accident Claim?

Exceptions to Statutes of Limitations in Arizona Car Accident Claims

Arizona’s legal code provides time limits to bring a lawsuit after a car accident, but the law also makes room for circumstances in which the court might pause, or toll, the statute of limitations. Below are some common situations that could serve as grounds for the court to extend the statute of limitations for a car accident in Arizona.

Defendant’s Location

It’s impossible to serve court documents to someone who leaves the state after a car accident. Sometimes a defendant leaves purposefully to avoid civil or criminal proceedings related to the accident. Other times, work, or family responsibilities take them away from Arizona. In either case, it’s likely the court will pause the statute of limitations time clock until the defendant returns to Arizona. This also applies if the defendant goes “underground” and hides out to avoid civil or criminal proceedings related to the car accident.

False Representation

Sometimes drivers involved in a car accident provide false identification to law enforcement. They might be trying to avoid liability and an increase in insurance premiums but often are more concerned with criminal issues.

Perhaps they are driving on a suspended or revoked license, are driving a stolen vehicle, or know they have a warrant out for their arrest. In these situations, the court might pause the statute of limitations until law enforcement, an investigator, and/or the insurance company can verify the identity and location of the defendant.

Severe Injury

Certain injuries can render someone incapable of taking legal action because they are physically and/or mentally incapacitated. For example, someone who suffers head trauma in a car accident might sustain a traumatic brain injury that leaves them with permanent brain damage.

Other times, a car accident victim might have to spend months in the hospital because they are in a coma or suffered burns during a car accident. In these situations, the court might toll the statute of limitations.

Delayed Discovery

Sometimes car accident victims do not immediately know the full scope of their injuries. Arizona law provides an exception to the statute of limitations in these delayed discovery situations.

In most cases, the statute of limitations time clock does not begin until the date a victim discovers an injury or the date when a reasonable person should have discovered an injury. This situation is not as common in car accident claims, but it can happen. Delayed discovery exists to give victims enough time to take legal action after discovering an injury.

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the most common situation where delayed discovery might apply to a car accident. TBIs sometimes take weeks or months to present identifiable symptoms. Even if a doctor diagnoses a concussion or other type of brain injury, it could take a significant amount of time to discover the extent of the brain damage to a car accident victim and whether that damage is permanent.

Minor Car Accident Victims

An Arizona court might pause the statute of limitations for a minor car accident victim until their 18th birthday. Parents and guardians can bring a lawsuit on a child’s behalf, but they do not always take action. Situations involving child car accident victims have many moving parts, so the laws vary greatly.

If your child was injured in an Arizona car accident or if you suffered injuries in a car accident as a child, you should discuss this situation with an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible.

Statutes of Repose in Arizona Car Accident Claims

A statute of repose is another type of law that governs time limits on accident injury claims. The legal community recognizes statutes of repose as an advantage to negligent parties because they place an absolute time limit on a victim bringing a lawsuit in civil court. Statutes of repose do not apply to the vast majority of car accident claims. However, if your car accident occurred because of a defective vehicle or automobile part, the statute of repose will apply. Product liability claims in Arizona are subject to statutes of limitations and statutes of repose.

Under Arizona law, victims must take legal action related to a defective vehicle or automobile part no longer than 12 years after the accident occurred. Although the statute of repose applies in these situations, it’s unlikely it will make a difference. Car accident victims who suffer severe injuries and incur massive losses typically take action long before the statute of repose kicks in.

What if the Statute of Limitations Ends on my Car Accident Claim?

If you, with the help of an attorney, file a personal injury lawsuit for your car accident claim after the statute of limitations deadline, the defense will move to dismiss your case based on your late filing. The exceptions discussed above provide justification for the court to hear your case, but they might still dismiss the case.

Once an Arizona court dismisses your car accident claim, you cannot seek damages for your injuries regardless of who is to blame for the car accident and how strong your claim is. Consulting with and hiring an experienced car accident lawyer soon after your accident is the best way to ensure you do not lose the chance to recover damages because you missed a statute of limitations deadline.

What Should I Do After a Car Accident in Arizona?

If you have suffered injuries in an Arizona car accident, you should have already received emergency medical treatment. If you have incurred massive losses because of medical expenses and lost wages, it makes sense that you are wondering about the statute of limitations in your car accident claim. Following these tips can preserve the value of your claim and give you the best chances of recovering maximum compensation commensurate with your car accident injuries:

Follow Your Doctor’s Orders

After receiving emergency treatment for your injuries, your treating physician created a treatment plan for your injuries that likely included visiting your regular doctor. Once released from the hospital, you must follow that treatment plan closely. This also means attending all doctor appointments and other appointments for specialized treatment like physical therapy and occupational therapy. Failure to follow the doctor’s orders gives the other side ammunition to argue that your injuries aren’t healing or are worsening because you aren’t complying with your treatment plan.

Keep Proof of Economic Loss

You must prove damages to prevail in your car accident claim. Economic loss makes up a large portion of damages in most claims. Keep all medical bills, pay stubs that show lost wages and benefits, receipts for car repairs, and any other receipts related to losses incurred because of the car accident. Also, document mileage to and from medical appointments. Provide all this information to your lawyer, so they can prove your economic loss.

Speak with the Insurance Company Cautiously

The other side’s insurance company might make an early settlement offer, but they will certainly contact you to give your statement. It’s best to contact an attorney before you speak with them. However, if you are forced to talk with the insurance company, remember the insurance adjuster is not your friend.

Do not offer more information than necessary and provide limited answers to questions. Also, never second-guess yourself or accept part of the blame. The adjuster will use whatever you say against you if they can. Do not let them record your statement, and do not sign a release for your medical records until you speak to a lawyer.

Additionally, an attorney can use an early offer as a starting point for settlement negotiations, often obtaining much more than a client would get without legal counsel.

Keep Details About Your Claim to Yourself

Sharing the details of your car accident claim with your family, friends, and neighbors can create a situation that provides justification for the insurance company to deny or devalue your claim. Insurance investigators talk to those close to claimants to find evidence of fault or evidence that injuries aren’t that severe.

Don’t give your loved ones any information that the insurance company can force them to share and hurt your claim. Do not post on social media until your claim resolves, so the insurance company cannot use your personal posts against you.