If you were recently injured in an auto accident in Sacramento, Oakland, or elsewhere in Northern California, you probably have a list of questions about filing an insurance claim.
It is important to remember that, even when you are filing a claim through your own insurance company, the insurer is not on your side. To be sure, the insurance company’s goal is to pay as little as possible for claims. As such, it may try to tell you that you have missed a deadline for filing your claim or to convince you to take a settlement with a specific deadline.
While it can be important for a number of reasons to file your insurance claim as soon as possible, we will go over the difference between soft deadlines (those that are not actually legal deadlines at all) and strict deadlines that must be met in order to obtain compensation. In short, while some deadlines absolutely must be met, other deadlines are not actually deadlines at all.
Reporting the Car Accident to Your Insurance Company
Let’s imagine that you were involved in a serious car accident in San Jose, and you do not immediately think to contact your insurance company to let it know about the collision. Your auto insurance company may have specific deadlines for reporting an accident, and these can be extremely important deadlines that you need to follow. If you fail to report an auto accident involving physical damage and bodily injury within a particular period of time, this may give the insurance company a reason to deny your claim later on.
To be clear, reporting the accident is not the same as filing a claim. In order to report the accident, you will typically just need to call the phone number on your auto insurance card (or located elsewhere on your policy). The California Department of Insurance provides additional information about reporting a claim and what type of information you will need to provide.
In order to avoid missing a required deadline for reporting the accident, the California Department of Insurance recommends notifying your insurance company immediately—as soon as the accident happens. Depending on the nature of the accident, you also may be required to report the accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or else risk having your driver’s license suspended.
Filing Your Claim within a Reasonable Period of Time
Under most circumstances, an insurance company cannot set an absolute deadline for filing your claim. However, it is often beneficial for someone who has been injured in an accident because of another party’s negligence to file the claim as soon as possible. As you might imagine, the sooner to the date of the accident that an adjuster and investigator can evaluate your claim, the more evidence that likely exists.
In other words, as more time goes by, it may be more difficult to obtain witness statements. Witnesses may have forgotten valuable information, and in some cases, witnesses may be difficult to locate for a statement. In addition, it can be more difficult to obtain evidence from the scene of the crash as more time goes by. For example, skid marks might have disappeared, or a damaged area of the road or median may have been repaired. To put it another way, while you likely do not have to file your claim by a strict deadline, filing as soon as possible is likely in your best interest.
Know that the Statute of Limitations for a Car Accident Lawsuit is Strict, and the Timing of Your Insurance Claim Could Affect Your Lawsuit
If you cannot obtain compensation through an insurance claim, you may need to file a lawsuit. Personal injury lawsuits, including car accident lawsuits, have a very stringent statute of limitations.
In most cases, under California law, if the injured party does not file her claim within two years from the date of the injury, she is barred from filing a claim at all. If that injured party waits for too long to file her insurance claim, the statute of limitations could run out on a car accident lawsuit.
Deadlines for Accepting Settlement Offers
After you file your claim, you may receive a settlement offer that comes with a deadline for acceptance. For instance, the insurance company might offer you $10,000 to settle the case, but only if you agree to the settlement by a specific date. This deadline is typically a strict one, but failing to meet the deadline does not mean that you will not receive compensation for your losses.
Insurance companies frequently make settlement offers in order to avoid a larger payout later on in an insured’s case. As such, an insurance company can try to convince an injured party to accept a settlement by a strict deadline so that the injured party thinks she needs to agree to that settlement. Before you ever accept a settlement, you should always discuss your case with a Fresno auto accident lawyer.
Contact a Northern California Auto Accident Lawyer
If you have questions about your car accident and insurance deadlines, an experienced Oakland car accident lawyer is here to help. Contact GJEL Accident Attorneys today for more information about the services we provide to injured plaintiffs throughout Northern California.