Car Accidents and the Statute of Limitations in Louisiana
October 23, 2019 @ 9:30 am
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 36,750 people died in crashes during 2018. Meanwhile, Louisiana consistently ranks as one of the most expensive states for auto insurance, and authorities are more concerned than ever about risky behaviors like driving while impaired, distracted driving and speeding—all hazards that increase the likelihood and severity of crashes.
Despite built-in safety technology to make cars brake sooner or steer better, car accidents are bound to happen. And if the accident happens in Louisiana, you may have to think, act and react faster than you would in other states thanks to Louisiana’s brief statute of limitations on personal injuries and property damages.
Getting in a Wreck in Louisiana
While most states set their statute of limitations for personal injuries and property damages at several years, Louisiana allows potential plaintiffs only one year to file a personal injury or property damage lawsuit. To clarify the time limit’s starting point, Louisiana Civil Code 3492 specifies that the prescription of one year “commences to run from the day injury or damage is sustained.”
This means that in a car accident, the clock on the one-year time frame begins ticking from the moment the accident occurs and stops once 364 more days have passed. This same clock ticks for everyone involved in the accident — regardless of whether they were a driver, passenger, cyclist, pedestrian or bystander. If harmed, any of these individuals can sue, but they must do so within one year of the date of the accident.
The one exception is if someone dies from injuries incurred in the accident at a later date. Then, the one-year countdown for filing a wrongful death lawsuit begins on the date of their death rather than the date of the accident.
How To Document a Car Accident in Louisiana
To ensure records are accurate and current, Louisiana mandates that drivers report accidents to the proper authorities according to the guidelines detailed in Revised Statutes 32:398:
- For accidents involving a death or injury or property damage exceeding $500, the driver must immediately contact the nearest local police department, sheriff’s office or state police station to provide personal identifying information to authorities as well as any other individuals involved in the accident.
- For accidents involving a death or injury or property damage exceeding $100, the driver must provide a written account of the accident to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections within 24 hours or face a fine of $100, six months in prison or both.
Drivers may need to provide additional reports as well as cooperate with further formal investigations of the accident.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit After a Car Accident in Louisiana
Louisiana’s strict requirements for reporting car accidents and its one-year statute of limitations on personal injury and property damage lawsuits leave no room for errors, mistakes, delays or misunderstandings. Accident reports detailing what happened are on file within 24 hours—if not sooner—and the statute of limitations’ one-year countdown has already begun.
This condensed timeline can be difficult to coordinate with what you most likely think of as your first line of defense and compensation—your auto insurance or the insurance of the driver at fault—and it can happen for a number of reasons:
- Louisiana is a pure comparative fault state. Simply put, percentages of blame are assigned to all individuals involved in an accident as appropriate. Any percentage of fault assigned to you will in turn reduce the insurance benefits you can expect to collect to cover your expenses.
- Insurance investigations, negotiations among insurers, disputes and denials can delay decisions and much-needed payouts by days, weeks or even months.
- Medical care providers like attending physicians, specialists and hospitals may be slow to reach conclusive diagnoses and provide requested documentation, assessments or other reports to insurers or other concerned parties.
Any delay can consume weeks that rapidly become months. By the time you discover that a lengthy investigation has unjustly assigned an undeserved percentage of fault to you that will reduce your benefits, you may have very little time to assemble and file a suit to address your personal injury and property damages.
Get the Right Representation
Instead, exercise your right to legal representation. If you’re in a car accident, reach out to the attorneys who practice where you live—right here in South Louisiana. Call 800-356-6776 to speak to an attorney at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett and Haik, or schedule a free consultation online. We have offices in Opelousas, Lafayette and New Iberia, and we believe that all of the members of our parish communities deserve the rights and protections due them.