Victims of truck accidents often suffer catastrophic injuries that require long recovery periods. In the aftermath of a crash, a victim may not think about pursuing a lawsuit immediately. However, they should not wait too long. Each state imposes a statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits, which is a deadline for filing a formal complaint. If a victim does not meet this deadline, they may face the dismissal of their case, even if it has a strong substantive basis. However, a defendant generally must raise this argument, or it will be considered waived. A court will not dismiss a case for violating the statute of limitations under its own authority.
Statutes of Limitations May Vary
Some states impose different statutes of limitations for different types of claims arising from accidents. For example, a wrongful death claim after a fatal accident or a products liability claim based on a truck defect may have a distinctive statute of limitations.
Complying with the statute of limitations only requires filing the initial complaint. The case may not go before a judge until much later, but this will not create a statute of limitations problem.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations
A few narrow situations may pause the statute of limitations, which is called “tolling” in legal terms. One example involves children, who are usually considered legally incompetent. The statute of limitations may be tolled in cases involving child injuries until a child turns 18. In addition, victims of truck accidents sometimes suffer psychological harm that may make them legally incompetent. This can toll the statute of limitations until the condition is resolved. In still other cases, the statute of limitations may be extended or shortened upon the agreement of a victim and a defendant.
Some states apply a principle called the discovery rule to personal injury cases. This may alter the period for filing a lawsuit if the victim did not know immediately that they suffered injuries due to an accident. Most injuries resulting from a truck accident appear soon after a crash, so the discovery rule does not usually apply.
Suing the Government
Claims against the government based on issues such as road defects may be subject to a deadline for filing a notice of claim with the appropriate agency. This deadline may be much shorter than the applicable statute of limitations for an ordinary lawsuit.
Additional Reasons to Pursue a Lawsuit Promptly
Beyond the statute of limitations, practical concerns should motivate a victim to pursue legal action as soon as possible. Proving liability requires a thorough investigation of a crash, and key evidence may decay or vanish over time. For example, the memories of eyewitnesses may fade, and physical evidence such as defective truck parts may be discarded. Trucking companies may not preserve maintenance records for a truck, driver logbooks, or the employee file of a driver. For example, federal regulations require a trucking company to keep a driver logbook only for six months after an accident. If this time elapses, a victim may lose access to evidence indicating that a trucker violated hours of service rules and was excessively fatigued while operating the truck.
An event data recorder in a truck, also known as a “black box,” may contain evidence that a driver caused an accident. For example, black box data may reveal a failure to apply the brakes before a crash, or it may indicate that the truck driver was speeding. Black box data may be lost if too much time passes, since the device may erase information once a truck has traveled a certain number of miles.
Spoliation of Evidence
A truck accident lawyer can send a spoliation of evidence letter to a trucking company after an accident, requesting that the company preserve evidence related to the litigation. A court may impose sanctions if it finds that a defendant destroyed this evidence.