Auto insurance rules aren’t simple: each state sets its own regulations about everything from whether or not a driver’s credit score or gender can be used to determine rates to the punishment and long-term insurance implications for getting a DUI, speeding, or otherwise breaking driving laws. Another question decided at the state level has to do with what happens after a car crash (or other traffic event causing injury or property damage) occurs: How long after a car crash can you file a claim?
Each state – not each insurance company – determines the length of time drivers have to file claims or bring lawsuits. However, there isn’t any national standard, so you’ll have to familiarize yourself with your state’s laws (our chart below will help).
So, how long after a car crash can you file a claim?
Insurance companies and lawyers will usually say the amount of time customers have to file a claim varies and that drivers should refer to their policy for details. And, if you look at your insurance card, it’ll probably say something like, “Notify us within 24 hours of a crash to file a claim.” However, the statement is more a guideline than a requirement, and you won’t necessarily have your claim denied if you miss the window, explains The Zebra’s own licensed insurance agent and adviser, Neil Richardson.
Each state determines its own statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims. Drivers technically have until the end of their state’s statute of limitations to file a claim with their insurer or to sue either an insurer or another party that caused damage to their property or caused bodily injury.
“Even if you’ve switched insurance companies four times since your crash, or even if your policy ended up canceled later, as long as you were insured at the time of the incident, you can file a claim within your state’s statute of limitations window,” says Neil.
Take note: Claims and lawsuits are essentially interchangeable in this situation. Some states say residents have two years to file a lawsuit, while others might say residents have two years to file a claim, but it doesn’t matter. If your state says you have two years, you have two years whether it’s for a lawsuit or an insurance claim. After the statute of limitations is up, you no longer have legal resource to recover damages. (Insurance companies may still pay claims that were filed passed the statute, but there is absolutely no guarantee that a company will do that. We don’t recommend you take that risk.)
Claims are usually broken up into two categories: property damage and personal injury. Some states have the same limitations for both categories and some states have different time frames for each category:
|Statute of Limitations on Property Damage & Injury Insurance Claims by State|
|Alabama||2 years||2 years|
|Alaska||2 years||2 years|
|Arizona||2 years||2 years|
|Arkansas||3 years||3 years|
|California||2 years||2 years|
|Colorado||3 years||3 years|
|Connecticut||2 years||2 years|
|Delaware||2 years||2 years|
|Florida||4 years||4 years|
|Georgia||4 years||2 years|
|Hawaii||2 years||2 years|
|Idaho||2 years||2 years|
|Illinois||5 years||2 years|
|Indiana||2 years||2 years|
|Iowa||5 years||2 years|
|Kansas||2 years||1 year|
|Kentucky||2 years||1 year|
|Louisiana||1 year||1 year|
|Maine||6 years||6 years|
|Maryland||3 years||3 years|
|Massachusetts||3 years||3 years|
|Michigan||3 years||3 years|
|Minnesota||6 years||6 years|
|Mississippi||3 years||3 years|
|Missouri||5 years||5 years|
|Montana||2 years||3 years|
|Nebraska||4 years||4 years|
|Nevada||1 year||1 year|
|New Hampshire||3 years||3 years|
|New Jersey||2/4 years||2/4 years|
|New Mexico||4 years||3 years|
|New York||3 years||3 years|
|North Carolina||3 years||3 years|
|North Dakota||2 years||2 years|
|Ohio||2 years||2 years|
|Oklahoma||2 years||2 years|
|Oregon||6 years||2 years|
|Pennsylvania||2 years||2 years|
|Rhode Island||N/A||3 years|
|South Carolina||3 years||3 years|
|South Dakota||3 years||3 years|
|Tennessee||3 years||1 year|
|Texas||2 years||2 years|
|Utah||3 years||4 years|
|Vermont||3 years||3 years|
|Virginia||5 years||2 years|
|Washington||3 years||3 years|
|West Virginia||2 years||2 years|
|Wisconsin||3 years||3 years|
|Wyoming||4 years||4 years|
*Claims can be filed for 2 years / Lawsuits can be filed for up to 4 years after a crash
**Drivers must file a claim within 2 years from the time they know their injury or property damage was caused by the crash or within 4 years after the crash, whichever is earlier.
***There is no apparent statute of limitations for property damage on the books in Rhode Island
Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Waiting to File a Claim
Insurance companies ask customers to notify them of an incident which might lead to a claim as soon as possible. Neil says it’s in a driver’s best interest to follow that guideline for two main reasons:
1. Your insurer will have a firmer understanding of what happened and you avoid causing further damage to your vehicle.
“Filing with your insurer as soon as possible will give you the highest likelihood of a positive outcome,” he says.
Neil explains that filing within the window of your state’s statute of limitations but after the guidelines insurers give you will make you technically correct, and your insurer can’t deny your claim on those grounds alone, but you’ll probably experience pushback, and you won’t necessarily receive a payout. Part of the reason for this is that the longer you wait, the more difficult it is for the insurance company to assess what damage (or injuries) were caused by the original incident.
“Say you damage your bumper and you then drive the car with a damaged bumper for a year, and it eventually falls off and damages the tires or the rims,” says Neil. “If you then file a claim with your insurance company, it will be difficult for them to determine what damage was caused by the original incident (the damaged bumper) and what damage was caused by your negligence (the damage to the tires or rims because you drove around with a damaged bumper).”
In this case, you might get a smaller payout from your insurer that might not cover all of the repairs since you contributed to further damage.
(A side note: this scenario would only be possible if you have collision coverage, which isn’t mandatory and costs extra.)
2. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome of your claim, you’ll still have time to file a lawsuit within your state’s statute of limitations.
The litigation-shy among us might wonder why you’d need to sue after a collision if the crash was covered by insurance (either your policy if you were at fault or the other party’s if they were at fault).
If you weren’t found at fault for a collision and the other party’s insurance covered either your injuries or property damage, you might find that the coverage comes up short. Maybe their property damage coverage didn’t pay for all of your vehicle repairs, or maybe you have medical bills that their policy didn’t cover because their limits of liability were too low. In that case, you can file a lawsuit against the other party if you’re within your state’s statute of limitations.
“Say your state’s statute of limitations for property damage is two years. If you wait one year and 360 days after damage occurred to contact the insurer, you might still get a payout from them, but it won’t come through until your state’s statute of limitations has passed.”
If you end up unhappy with your payout, you’ll have no grounds to take either the insurer to court (if the damage was your fault) or the other party to court (if the damage was not your fault).
States that Work a Little Differently
Almost every state in our fair union adheres to the above, but, as Neil explained, “New Jersey and Pennsylvania are very particular about lawsuits in general because their court systems are seriously congested.”
In all no-fault states there are threshold requirements a person must meet before he or she can sue another driver for pain and suffering. In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, you can remove that threshold in exchange for a higher premium, or you can accept the threshold and pay a lower rate.
Best Practices After a Collision
Car crashes are highly stressful ordeals and sometimes damage and injuries aren’t noticed right away. Our post-crash checklist will help you make sure you take all the necessary safety, legal, and insurance steps necessary immediately after a wreck. (Bookmark it!)
In order to ensure you’re able to file a claim if you notice either property damage or injuries later, pay careful attention to these documentation steps immediately post-crash:
- Always make a police report and write down the report number. If you don’t, it’ll be your word against the other party’s if you need to file an auto insurance claim, making the claims process quite difficult (and often unsuccessful).
- Get the other driver’s insurance and contact information and write down the vehicle’s license plate number.
- Assessed the damage to your vehicle and take photos of both the scene and all vehicles involved (do this even if you don’t notice obvious damage in case something comes up later).
- If you visit a doctor or emergency room, document everything and keep track of paperwork – you’ll need everything for a personal injury claim.
Most states are generous in the amount of time they give drivers to file both property damage and personal injury insurance claims, so don’t be afraid to file a claim even if you think it’s too late. If you’re within the window, you have a case.
As always, drive safely, and if you do get into a wreck, be sure to take each necessary step and a bad situation won’t become catastrophic.