Every state has statutes limiting the amount of time you have to file a suit. These apply to insurance claims of every kind, whether an auto accident, a personal injury, or a claim related to a contract. The time limits for filing vary significantly from state to state. Each state also has different time limits for different kinds of claims. Personal injury claims generally have the shortest time limits; written contract claims have the longest.
No Uniform Statute
In Montana, you have three years to file a personal injury claim; Nebraska gives you four, and California gives you only two. Maine and North Dakota both give you six years, the longest limits among the 50 states. Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee have the shortest limits: only one year.
In some states the statute of limitations is the same for both personal injury and property damage. This is the case in Maine, North Dakota and Louisiana. In other states, you have more time to file for property damage. Tennessee, for example, gives you only one year to file a personal injury claim, but three years to file for property damage. Rhode Island allows three years for personal injury claims, but up to 10 years for personal property claims -- the longest period among the 50 states. Other states also give you more time to file claims for real property damage than for damage to personal property.
States give you more time, in some cases as much as 10 years, to file an insurance claim where there's a written contract underlying the claim. This can lead to situations where you might have only two years to file a claim for personal injury against another driver, but up to 10 years to file against your own insurance company, because your policy is a written contract. Some states give you as much time to file a claim related to an oral contract as for a written contract, but other states give you less.
There are possible exceptions to these time limits. For example, you couldn't file a claim earlier because your injuries prevented you from doing so, or you didn't become aware of your injuries for a period of time after an accident. Your attorney may claim that the time begins to run with your awareness of the injury, not with the accident that caused it. Another reason for an extension of the time limits is if your insurance company acted in bad faith. A California Supreme Court opinion noted that “The key to a bad faith claim is whether or not the insurer’s denial of coverage was reasonable." In general, courts don't favor arguments for extension of the statute of limitations, and more often rule against them, reasoning that the orderly conduct of the law requires certainty about the time allowed to file a suit.
Patrick Gleeson received a doctorate in 18th century English literature at the University of Washington. He served as a professor of English at the University of Victoria and was head of freshman English at San Francisco State University. Gleeson is the director of technical publications for McClarie Group and manages an investment fund. He is a Registered Investment Advisor.