When most people are involved in a car accident, one of their first thoughts is whether they were at fault in causing it. Ultimately, determining fault in a car accident is at the heart of a personal injury claim, and so it’s natural that people worry about it in the immediate aftermath of the accident.
But there are other questions just as important to an accident victim’s recovery as the substantive question of who was at fault. For example, what is the procedure for filing a claim with an insurance company? How do you sue the other driver if his or her insurance won’t pay? How long do you have to do so?
That last question is the topic of this post. To answer it, we should explore the concept of statutes of limitations and consider how Kentucky uses them in the context of a car accident lawsuit.
Introduction to Statutes of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a time limit for filing a lawsuit. If a plaintiff does not file a lawsuit by the deadline established by the statute of limitations, then the lawsuit will be barred. The defendant in the case can ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit, and, subject to some exceptions described below, the court will do so.
Kentucky Statutes of Limitations for Car Accidents
There is not just one statute of limitations. There isn’t even just one for car accidents. What statute of limitations applies to a case depends on the plaintiff’s cause of action—the specific legal claim that he or she asserts.
Car accident lawsuits involve personal injury. K.R.S. § 413.140 provides that in personal-injury actions, the plaintiff has only one year after the cause of action accrues to file a lawsuit. A cause of action generally accrues on the date of injury. However, K.R.S. § 304.39, the Motor Vehicle Reparations Statute, extends the period for car accident injuries to two years after the date the last payment for personal injury protection benefits were paid.
If the accident caused only non-fatal injuries, then the cause of action accrues, and the statute of limitations begins to run, on the date of the accident. So, in such cases, the plaintiff has only one year after the accident to sue unless the injuries were the result of a motor vehicle accident.
When a car accident only causes property damage, and not personal injury, the statute of limitations is two years after the date of the accident.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations in Kentucky
Because the statute of limitations can lead to harsh results, Kentucky courts and the Legislature have crafted some narrow exceptions that apply in special circumstances. Below, we consider three.
Death of the Accident Victim
If the accident victim dies before the statute of limitations expires—whether because of injuries sustained in the accident or otherwise—then the limitations period is extended until:
- One year after the appointment of a personal representative for the victim’s estate; or
- Two years after death if the personal representative is appointed more than one year after death.
This same extended limitations period applies in wrongful death cases.
Under K.R.S. § 413.170, the statute of limitations is extended for anyone who was an “infant or of unsound mind” when the injury occurred. In this context, “infant” doesn’t literally mean a baby—it means anyone who is a minor (i.e., younger than 18). In these cases, the statute of limitations only begins to run when:
- The minor turns 18;
- The person of “unsound mind” becomes competent; or
- In any event, when the person dies.
The Discovery Rule
Kentucky courts use the discovery rule to “toll” the statute of limitations in certain circumstances. When the statute of limitations is “tolled,” it doesn’t begin to run until a date later than it otherwise would. The discovery rule applies when the plaintiff was not aware of his or her injury, and could not have discovered it with the exercise of reasonable diligence.
As might be imagined, the discovery rule only rarely applies in car accident cases, because injury in such cases will usually be obvious or readily discoverable. As the Kentucky Supreme Court has said, the discovery rule “is reserved for truly exceptional circumstances,” and so plaintiffs should not rely on it in most cases.
The Importance of Hiring a Kentucky Car Accident Attorney
Determining fault in a car accident is an important task for drivers, insurance companies, and courts. But there are other legal issues that have at least as great an impact on car accident victims as fault, like the statute of limitations. Letting the statute of limitations for car accident lawsuits expire means that an injured driver or pedestrian will never get a day in court.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident in Kentucky, the best way to protect your rights and ensure that you do not miss the statute of limitations’ deadline is to hire a Kentucky car accident attorney as soon as possible.
At Edwards & Kautz, our Paducah, Kentucky car accident attorneys work diligently to help you receive the compensation you deserve as quickly as possible. Whether that involves negotiating an out-of-court settlement or filing suit before the statute of limitations expires and going to trial, our lawyers have the experience and expertise you can rely on.