What is a statute of limitations?

Simply put, a statute of limitations is the deadline to bring a legal action. It is the date by which a lawsuit must be filed and if suit is not filed by that date there are severe consequences. A lawsuit is more than simply “making a claim”. The statute of limitations requires that a complaint be filed in the correct court and against the proper party or parties. Failure to do so will almost always mean the case is over for the person making the claim.

As an example, assume a person waiting at a stoplight somewhere in Arizona, is hit by another driver. The person that was hit has a claim, so she can be referred to as the claimant. The claimant might open a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. The claimant and the insurance company could come to an agreement to settle the claim. But if the claim has not been settled by the date of the statute of limitations, the claimant must file a lawsuit. If the statute of limitations passes and the claimant has not settled the claim and has not filed suit, then the claim will be barred. This means the insurance company will not have to pay the claim.

What the specific statute of limitations is will depend on the type of case and the party or parties being sued. Using the example above, if the driver who caused the collision is a private citizen, on private business at the time of the collision, one particular statute of limitations will apply. If, however, he was working for a government entity at the time of the collision, another statute of limitations will apply. Complicating things further, additional administrative procedures and deadlines are required depending on whether the at-fault driver is working for a federal agency or state agency at the time of the collision. One such administrative procedure requires the claimant to take some specific action within 180 days of the date the claim arose. Knowing early in the case, what statute of limitations and administrative deadlines apply, therefore, is important.

Do I need to call the police after an accident?

Having the police respond to the scene of an automobile accident can be very helpful, even when it appears to be a minor collision. After an accident, you may not be thinking clearly enough to know exactly what information to obtain and how to respond. A police officer will know what to do and what information to document.

Police investigate accidents all the time; ordinary citizens are rarely involved in accidents. As a result, law enforcement brings a level of experience and impartiality to an accident investigation that the people in the accident lack. Starting with the basics, police document important contact and identifying information about everyone involved in collision. This includes the person or people who were hit, the person or people who caused the accident, the passengers of all the vehicles and the witnesses. Police document the names, addresses, phone numbers and drivers’ license numbers of all the drivers. They also record the insurance and owner of each vehicle. This is very important because sometimes the insurance that applies is under the name of the
owner (such as a business or parent) of the vehicle, not the driver.

Having police at the scene also helps establish the facts of the collision while the information is fresh in everyone’s minds. If a person admits to the police that he/she ran a red light and caused the accident, for instance, it makes it more difficult for him/her to claim he/she had the green light later on. If the police are not there to document such an admission and one person changes his/her story, then it will be the word of one person against the word of another.

Police also have the ability to investigate the accuracy of information in a way that most people cannot. For example, there once was a woman hit her from behind while she was stopped in traffic at a light. There was a male and a female in the vehicle that caused the collision. Police were called to the scene. Initially, the female occupant claimed she was driving at the time of the collision. During the investigation, however, the police interviewed witnesses and discovered that the male was actually driving and the female was just a passenger. Further investigation revealed that the male also had a suspended license. Had the police not been called to the accident scene, the victim would not have known the true identity of the driver or that the driver was driving illegally.

Not every police agency will respond to every accident. Some police departments, for instance, will not send an officer out if the damage to the vehicles is minor and no one needs emergency medical attention. Those departments will only take a report over the phone. Whether the agency will send out an officer or not, calling the police and documenting the accident in someway is always recommended, no matter how “minor” the accident may appear.