After a car accident, you’ll need some time to find your bearings. In addition to your physical injuries, you may be mentally shaken up and stressed with medical expenses. You may also need time to decide whether to pursue a claim against the other driver’s insurance. You should know that you have a limited time to make this decision, so it’s best to act sooner rather than later in your car accident claim in Oklahoma.
A ‘statute of limitations’ refers to a law that imposes a specified timeframe for legal action. This timeframe is known as a ‘limitation period’ or ‘prescriptive period.’ For civil matters, the clock starts running on the date of the cause of action. In most cases, the clock starts ticking whenever the harm occurs. For example, a defamation claim must be made within a specific time period following the publication of the defamatory statement. For personal injury matters, the cause of action is the accident or incident that caused the injuries. Legislators put these time frames in place to prevent unreasonable claims from being brought before the court and to protect would-be defendants from being the subject of an unfair lawsuit. Evidence and witness testimonies become more unreliable with the passage of time, so it’s best to make a claim as soon as possible.
The time frame varies from state to state and depends on the cause of action. For most car accident claims in Oklahoma, the statute of limitations is two years. This is under the Oklahoma Statutes sections 12-95. Note that the timeframe is shortened if the defendant is a governmental entity. A car accident lawsuit involving a wreck caused by an OKC city bus, such as EMBARK (formerly Metro Transit), must follow the Oklahoma Governmental Torts Claims procedure.
Before a lawsuit can be filed against EMBARK, a governmental tort claim must be made within a year of the accident. A lawsuit cannot be filed until the claim is denied, or if the claim is not denied, it is “deemed denied” after 90 days after the claim is made. The lawsuit must be filed within 180 days after the claim is denied. So, the deadline against a city or state entity could be as little as 270 days if the initial claim is made on the same day as the wreck.
Is It Possible to Make a Claim After the Statute of Limitations Has Passed?
If the deadline to file has passed, the lawsuit will be dismissed. This provides the defendant with a nearly foolproof defense, making it impossible for you to succeed. In many instances, the defendant’s attorney can apply for a summary judgment against you, causing the case to be dismissed by the court.
It’s important to note that the statute of limitations applies to litigation within the court system and out-of-court settlements. This means the other party will not be obligated to compensate you, even if they were completely at fault if the period has lapsed.
If the deadline to file is quickly approaching, but it appears that the claim is close to settling, it’s usually a “best practice” to go ahead and file the lawsuit. This covers you if the claim is not resolved before the deadline. In general, without a written agreement signed by both parties to extend or “toll the deadline,” the claim will be lost forever if the lawsuit is not filed within the correct time.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations?
In most instances, a prescriptive period is a hard and fast rule. The court will strictly adhere to the statute of limitations and reject any claims made after the two-year period. If the deadline lapses, the plaintiff “is not entitled to any relief as a matter of law.” However, there are a few notable exceptions to this rule:
The Plaintiff is a Minor
When a child is injured in a car accident, a “next friend” must bring a claim on their behalf. This is often a parent or guardian but can be another suitable adult appointed by the court. The law refers to minors as having a “Legal Disability.” Minors have until one year after the “disability” is removed to file a lawsuit. So, minors must file the lawsuit before their 19th birthday. Practically, waiting that long to file a lawsuit can be difficult. For example, if a toddler is a passenger in a vehicle rear-ended by another driver and waits until right after his or her 18th birthday to file a lawsuit. The facts and witness testimony of the case 15+ years later will be difficult to prove without preserving the evidence years ago. Generally, the child’s parent(s) will bring the lawsuit after the child has finished medical treatment due to the wreck. A judge must approve any settlement for claims where a minor receives over $1k. If a settlement amount is agreed upon, the approval process is called a “friendly suit.”
The Plaintiff Was Mentally Incapacitated
If the victim is mentally incapacitated by the accident, the clock will not start running until they are deemed competent again. Common examples include plaintiffs who suffer traumatic brain injuries or are in a coma due to the wreck.
What if the Defendant cannot be found?
The lawsuit will still need to be filed within the deadline. Just because the plaintiff cannot find the defendant doesn’t mean the statute of limitations will be extended.
This is a convoluted process because all correspondence and negotiations are done with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, but the lawsuit must still be against the at-fault driver. The insurance company’s lawyers will defend the case.
For example, Pete is headed to Penn Square Mall and is waiting for the light to turn green at Northwest Expressway and Bell Isle Blvd (usually one of the most accident-prone intersections in OKC).
Dan rear-ended Pete because he looked at his phone and didn’t see the red light.
Pete goes to the ER at Integris Baptist Medical Center immediately after the wreck because his neck and back are hurting. They do some scans and tell him to follow up with his family doctor or “primary care physician.” He called his family doctor the next day because he couldn’t sleep from the back pain. His doctor’s receptionist tells him they do not treat patients in car accidents because they would rather not deal with the insurance companies.
About a week later, Pete calls Dan’s insurance company, Allstate, to find out what he needs to do. He gets a property damage claim set up, and they pay to get his car repaired within the first couple of weeks.
Pete’s back is still killing him, and he is missing work and barely sleeping because of it, so he goes back to Integris. Integris tells him to go to Accident Care & Treatment Center. Pete gets an appointment and sees a doctor for his neck and back at ACTC. He ends up getting about 12 weeks of physical therapy and feels pretty close to back to normal. Pete then claims his medical bills and personal injury claim with Allstate.
Allstate makes an offer that is less than his medical bills, so he doesn’t know what to do. He couldn’t work the first several weeks after the wreck and had to miss several hours of work 3x per week for the physical therapy appointments. He hated missing work, but he’s glad he did because he can return to normal life without the back pain.
Pete calls Allstate again, and it sounds like they did not factor in his two visits to Integris, so he’ll need to get copies of those bills and medical records. A couple of months go by, and he finally has the records and bills, so he sends those in. Another month goes by, so he calls Allstate again. They’ve increased the offer, but it’s only to cover his medical bills. If he wants that considered, the adjuster tells him to get “proof” of his lost income claim. His boss gives him a letter about a month later, and Pete promptly sends it to Allstate.
Pete followed up a few weeks later, and now Allstate wants a copy of last year’s tax return. He also received a letter from BlueCross BlueShield that they will require reimbursement for what they paid to Integris. ACTC treats on a “lien basis,” so those bills have not been paid yet.
Pete is tired of dealing with it for now and looked up on Google that he has two years to file the lawsuit, so he waits a little while to call Allstate again. Luckily, he set a reminder on his phone one month before the deadline and called Allstate again. The new adjuster (4th or 5th one he’s talked with) barely increases the offer and tells him they’re counting his missed work as paid vacation, so they’re not considering it. So, Pete talks with a lawyer. The lawyer tells him it isn’t a fair settlement offer as it doesn’t even cover all of his lost income and medical bills and entirely ignores his pain.
The lawsuit was filed before the deadline, but since the wreck was two years ago, Defendant Dan’s address on the accident report is outdated. The Allstate attorneys tell Pete’s lawyer that they “will not accept service,” so Dan needs to be served for the lawsuit to proceed. Dan’s attorney hires an investigator to track Dan down, but he can’t be found. So, Dan’s attorney must get “service by publication” and follow the statute by getting the notice published in the newspaper. After the notice is published for three consecutive weeks, Allstate files an Answer, and the case finally progresses.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims
If a car accident victim passes away, their family members or personal representatives can file a wrongful death claim. Such claims must be made within two years of the plaintiff’s death.