Even a relatively minor car accident can leave you saddled with the physical, psychological, and financial burden of personal injury and property damage. You may be forced to undergo extensive medical treatment, skip days of work, and pay out of pocket for repairs and replacements.
However, if you were not more at fault for the crash than the other driver, you should be able to recover compensation to help offset your bills. This is good news but comes with a big reminder: You have a limited window of time to pursue a first-party or third-party insurance claim, or to initiate a personal injury lawsuit.
Important Deadlines to Understand After a Delaware Car Crash
The legal clock starts ticking in many ways as soon as you have a car accident. From the moment your accident occurs, you have to follow specific timelines. Some of the biggest deadlines include:
- Calling the Police: In Delaware, you are required by law to call the police immediately if your crash caused at least $500 in damages. That way, an officer can make an accident report. Since even a small dent in a car door can be surprisingly pricey to repair, you should aim to call 911 immediately if you or the other driver spot any indications of damage.
- Talking to Your Insurance: It does not matter which insurance carrier you choose. All insurance carriers want to know as soon as you have been involved in a crash. The timeline for this may be vague, such as “within a reasonable timeframe.” Usually, this means within at least a couple of weeks of the collision. Even if you believe that you and the other driver are unhurt and there was no damage done to either vehicle, you should alert your car insurance company. That way, they will be on the lookout in case the other driver files a third-party insurance claim against you.
- Filing a First-Party Insurance Claim: If you intend to try to recover money to pay for injuries or damages from your insurance carrier, you should ask about the deadline to put together your request. Most insurance carriers have forms explaining what you will need in your proof-of-loss claim. Usually, it is best to file a first-party insurance claim as soon as you have all the documentation you need.
- Filing a Third-Party Insurance Claim: What happens if you believe the other driver was 100% or mostly at-fault for your car accident? In that case, you will want to file a third-party insurance claim with the other driver’s insurance carrier. Again, you should start this process after gathering all the documentation you need. In Delaware, all personal injury lawsuits must be filed within two years of the accident. Though a third-party insurance claim is not a lawsuit, it may lead to one, especially if the insurance adjuster is unwilling to negotiate fairly.
- Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit: When your injuries and expenses are substantial after an accident, you may end up filing a personal injury lawsuit with or without the help of a car accident lawyer. Again, you have two years from the date of your crash to file your lawsuit. A personal injury lawsuit is filed against the at-fault party, not against the third-party insurance carrier. The insurance carrier will still be involved in the litigation, though. This is why having a lawyer can be helpful. Navigating the legal system can be challenging for those without expertise, training, and resources.
Is The Two-Year Deadline to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit Set in Stone?
Many accident survivors spend months recovering from their injuries. While this makes sense, waiting to file claims or start cases moves them closer to the personal injury lawsuit deadline (called a “statute of limitations” in legal terminology.)
The problem with waiting too long to start a lawsuit is that it can become easy to miss the deadline. Two years can go by quickly, especially when you are undergoing surgeries, personal therapy, and other medical experiences. Even if you file a lawsuit just one day late, your case will almost certainly be thrown out and you will be left paying for everything on your own.
At What Point Should You Call a Lawyer?
You have the right to act as your own advocate at all stages in attempting to recover compensation after an accident. For instance, you can negotiate with your insurance carrier as well as the insurance adjuster working on behalf of the at-fault party. You can even submit a lawsuit without a lawyer, although the courts will hold you to the same legal standard as someone who went to law school, passed the Bar exam, and is a working attorney.
The benefit of contacting a lawyer quickly after your accident is that you can get advice right away. Most Delaware car accident lawyers offer free initial consultations. These consultations give you the opportunity to talk about what happened, present evidence such as your medical bills, and ask questions. The lawyer will assess your case and provide feedback.
For example, a lawyer may need to find out if your share of the fault was greater than half. Delaware follows a rule of comparative negligence. Comparative negligence enables you to file third-party insurance claims and begin lawsuits as long as you were 50% or less at fault for the incident. Any settlement money or damages you receive will then be reduced by your percentage of fault.
Consider a situation where you were found to be 20 percent at fault for an accident. You accept a settlement offer from the other driver’s insurance company for $10,000 dollars. The settlement would be reduced by 20 percent to $8,000 dollars accordingly. That way, you get something rather than nothing.
Tips for Proceeding with a Lawsuit After a e Car Accident
All car accidents are unexpected and traumatic, even the “little” ones. Some cause injuries that seem uncomplicated at first and then end up leading to unexpected long-term problems. Instead of getting confused, angry, and frustrated, remember to do these things at the scene of the accident:
- Take photos and videos of the accident scene for documentation. Also, gather witness names and phone numbers, if applicable.
- Do not admit fault, but be honest in giving statements to police.
- Get medical treatment right away rather than waiting days or weeks.
- Keep receipts and records of all expenses related to the car accident.
- Call your insurance carrier promptly and consider contacting a car accident lawyer within the first few weeks after you have a better sense of your injuries and property damages.
Deadlines help keep the legal system running smoothly. Be sure you understand both your rights and the official timelines as an accident survivor.
A Wilmington Accident Lawyer at Rhoades & Morrow Can Help Navigate the Complexities of Legal Deadlines After a Crash
Did your life change after being in a car accident in Delaware? Call an experienced Wilmington accident lawyer at Rhoades & Morrow for advice. Call our offices at (302) 600-1107 or fill out our online form. With offices in all three counties of Delaware, we serve clients throughout the state.