After you have an auto accident, you may want to delay reporting the crash to your insurance company for a number of reasons. For example, you may want to settle the damages with the other party directly. Be careful about waiting too long, however, because each state has a statute of limitations. If you do not file a claim within your state's time period, you forfeit the right to file a claim at all.
Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a law that sets a time period on when certain legal issues can occur. In the context of auto insurance claims, the statute prohibits any claim relating to a particular accident after the period of time defined by the statute expires. Each state sets its own statute of limitations. There may be a different time period for property damage claims than there is for injury claims. According to car-accident-advice.com, residents of Rhode Island have four years to file a property damage claim and three years for an injury claim, while Ohio residents have two years regardless what type of claim they have, as of 2011. Check your state to find out the expiration dates.
In all cases, the statute of limitations begins on the day of the car accident. Therefore, if you wait to file a claim with your own insurer to see if the other party will pay for your damages, the statute does not begin on the day the other party refuses to pay. If he takes one year before refusing to pay and your state only allows one year to file a claim, you have exceeded the statute and you can no longer file a claim for that accident.
Standard auto insurance policies are written as occurrence-made policies, meaning that you do not have to currently be a customer of a specific insurance company in order to claim against it. As long as you had a policy with that insurer when the accident occurred, you will be able to file a claim up to the expiration date of the statute of limitations even if you no longer have an active policy with that insurer.
Every state has a statute of limitations for torts, as well. A tort is a liability lawsuit one driver files against another to recover economic damages to himself or his property. If you do not file a summons and complaint within the specified time, you lose the right to sue at all. Remember that the lawsuit does not have to be settled in the statute time, only filed. If you have an insurance claim in progress at the time you file suit, you can still settle with your insurer in the meantime. Simply filing the claim or suit within the statute prevents you from forfeiting your right to collect.