How Long After an Accident Can You Make an Insurance Claim?

When someone sustains serious injuries in an accident, they often head straight to the emergency room. Generally, both drivers also report any injuries to the appropriate insurance carriers. The insurance companies investigate the accident, evaluate any injuries, and eventually settle any insurance claims. But, of course, it doesn’t always go exactly like this.
Sometimes you’re hurt, but you have no visible signs of trauma. When you do seek treatment it’s sometimes a day, a week, or a month later. You only realize you have a legitimate claim well after the accident, when you understand the connection between your current symptoms and your accident.
That makes sense, and it’s often the reason behind injury claim reporting delays. Unfortunately, your delayed report may generate suspicion. That’s particularly true if you’ve already told everyone involved that you’re okay.
When your body endures a severe jolt or a traumatic impact, you might not be as okay as you believe. Some injury symptoms don’t show up until days or weeks after an accident. You make a report when you realize what’s causing your pain. Even if you delay reporting your injuries, you still have a right to make a claim.

Delayed Symptoms and Serious Injuries

Delayed symptoms are common after a serious accident. There’s so much going on, you simply may not notice. Besides, after a major crash, it usually feels like a victory if you can stand up and walk away. The body doesn’t always immediately respond to trauma, and sometimes symptoms take a while to appear. This often occurs with soft-tissue injuries that eventually go away, even without treatment.
It also happens with more serious injuries, such as:

  • Whiplash: As the National Institutes of Health Whiplash Information Page explains, whiplash symptoms “may be delayed for several days.” The condition often involves neck, back, joint, and soft-tissue pain. It can worsen with time, sometimes causing chronic injuries that require increasingly intense treatment strategies.
  • Traumatic brain injury: A mild TBI (concussion) is a brain injury. The CDC explains that an injured person might not notice any symptoms until “days or months“ after the injury.
  • Internal damage: When trauma causes internal damage, sometimes the injured person feels only minimal discomfort. In cases with slow internal bleeding, symptoms such as vomiting and anemia often seem unrelated to a physical injury.

What if You Just Didn’t Report Your Claim?

Sometimes when an injured person waits to make an injury claim, it has nothing to do with delayed symptoms or treatment. Sometimes people just take a long time before reporting their claim.
This occurs for many reasons, including:

  • They didn’t intend to make a claim, but they changed their mind.
  • They intended to make a claim, but they forgot about it in the aftermath of the accident.
  • Their health insurer paid their medical bills. That was all they wanted at first, but now they want a settlement.
  • They didn’t think their injury was serious enough at first.

If you’re dealing with a liability carrier, they have no choice. To protect their insured, they must investigate your claim. Regardless of your reporting delay, they must decide to either pay you or not. They have the right to deny their insured’s liability for your injuries, but if you file a lawsuit against their insured, they must defend it.
You will have a different experience with your own insurance carrier. Your auto policy is a contract that spells out your rights and responsibilities. When you delay an injury claim report, it may violate your insurance policy terms. Insurers sometimes pay delayed claims to avoid the hassle. Depending on the delay and the potential dollar value of the claim, they might also exercise their right to decline your coverage.
A lawyer can enforce your legal rights for you and make sure the insurance company—whether your own or someone else’s—pays you what you deserve.

The Statute of Limitations Establishes a Legal Timeframe

The Revised Code of Washington §4.16.080 establishes your legal right to file a claim against a negligent party. You have three years from your accident date to settle your claim or file a lawsuit. If you wait until this deadline has passed, you lose your right to recover your damages.
You should take action long before the statute of limitations becomes a problem. It takes time for insurance companies, attorneys, and others to assess liability issues, evaluate your claim, and determine if they will pay you. When you wait too long before making a claim, filing a lawsuit is usually your only option.

The Injury Claim Credibility Gap

You can’t file a claim until you know you’ve sustained an injury. Insurance claim representatives understand this, but when you delay making a claim, it still creates a “credibility gap,” meaning that the insurer can dispute whether your injury was actually caused by the accident. The extent of the credibility gap usually depends on your previous interactions during the moments, days, and weeks following your accident.
If you told the other driver, a police officer, emergency personnel, or an insurance claim representative that you didn’t sustain an injury, they likely documented what you said and it became a part of their permanent records.
As your case moves forward, you may hear your words repeated. The claim negotiator might mention it during settlement negotiations. If you file a lawsuit, the defense attorney may quote you in their filings and ask you about your post-accident statements at your deposition.
A reporting delay can complicate your claim handling process, but that doesn’t take away your right to make a claim.

Insurance Companies Don’t Like Delayed Claims

Insurance personnel often become rather sanctimonious when they receive delayed injury claim reports. They can’t investigate, evaluate, and reserve their claim files the way they want. And when insurance companies don’t conduct timely investigations or make timely decisions, their actions potentially violate the state’s unfair claim settlement practices codes.
A delayed claim report also triggers an insurance investigator’s fraud alarm. When everything in their file says that you didn’t sustain an injury, they become suspicious when the situation changes. Some claim handlers use their authority to resolve claims as they see fit. When a claim generates suspicion, supervisors and managers often get involved.

You Have Legal Options

In theory, you can delay making an injury claim as long as you settle or sue before the statute of limitations runs out. But in reality, when you delay reporting a claim, you are often forced to spend a lot of time explaining and defending your actions. The process often gets overly complicated and there’s a possibility that the liability carrier will refuse to pay you no matter what you say or do. Sometimes a lawsuit is your only solution. A lawsuit forces the liability insurer to cooperate and you can get all the legal and damage issues out on the table.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

When you set up a free initial consultation with a personal injury attorney, you have an opportunity to discuss your case and learn more about your legal rights. Once you know more about your options, you can make informed decisions about pursuing your injury claim.

March 31, 2021
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