Car accidents in Arkansas always raise a series of legal issues, the resolution of which can have dramatic financial consequences for those involved. Some of those issues, like determining fault in a car accident, are obvious to the participants, because police and insurance companies will inquire about them in the immediate aftermath of the accident.
But other issues, although just as important, are not always as obvious. In this article, we explore one of those less-obvious legal issues; the statute of limitations for car accidents in Arkansas.
For background, statutes of limitations are laws that limit how long a person has to file a lawsuit after he or she has been injured. If a person tries to file a lawsuit after the limitations period has expired, then the defendant can ask the court to dismiss the case—and in most cases, the court will do so.
Because statutes of limitations can have such a harsh impact on a person’s legal claim, it is important to have a basic familiarity with the concept, and understand the critical importance of acting quickly following an accident. To that end, let’s look more closely at Arkansas’ statutes of limitations for car accidents.
WHAT STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS APPLY TO ARKANSAS AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENTS?
Different statutes of limitations apply to different types of lawsuits. Car accident lawsuits might involve one of a handful of different statutes of limitations, depending on the details of each case.
In general, personal-injury claims are subject to the three-year limitations period of Ark. Code § 16-56-105. This three-year period begins when the “cause of action accrues.” Normally, a person’s cause of action accrues on the date the person is injured. In car accident cases, that date would be the date of the accident. However, there are some narrow exceptions to this rule, which we will discuss in the next section.
If the car accident results in death, rather than merely injury, a separate three-year statute of limitations applies. The limitations period in such wrongful death lawsuits is measured from the date of the person’s death, rather than the date of the accident.
Finally, if the car accident was caused or worsened by a defect in the automobile, yet another three-year limitations period applies to any lawsuit against the manufacturer. This three-year products liability statute of limitations begins on the date of “the death, injury, or damage complained of.”
(Note that not every statute of limitations in Arkansas provides three years to sue. For instance, the limitations period for medical malpractice is only two years. You should always speak with an attorney as soon as practical following any kind of injury to determine which statute of limitations applies.)
ARE THERE EXCEPTIONS TO THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS?
Because statutes of limitations can be so harsh, barring legitimate lawsuits and preventing wrongdoers from being held accountable, legislatures often build in narrow exceptions to them, and courts often recognize further—but still narrow—exceptions.
Perhaps the broadest exception is the statutory exception for minors and others under a legal disability. Ark. Code § 16-56-116(a) states that any person who is under 21 years old or “insane” when a cause of action accrues has until 3 years after turning 21 or regaining sanity to file a lawsuit over that cause of action.
If a person who has a cause of action dies before the statute of limitations expires, then the executor or administrator of his or her estate has one year after the death to file a lawsuit for that cause of action. However, this is only true of causes of action that “survive”—meaning, those that a statute says the executor or administrator can sue for. (A cause of action for Personal Injury, such as in a car accident, does survive.)
Another exception applies to members of the U.S. military during times of war. Ark. Code § 16-56-118 states that the statute of limitations for such individuals is “suspended . . . during the existence of a state of war between the United States and any other nation, and for six (6) months thereafter.”
These are not the only exceptions to the Arkansas statutes of limitations, but are merely illustrative of the kinds of situations in which exceptions apply.
However, a person should not delay filing a lawsuit just because he or she thinks that one of the above exceptions applies. This is so for at least two reasons: First, the exception may not apply. Keep in mind that exceptions to statutes of limitations are exceptions, and the plaintiff has the burden of proving that he or she qualifies for one. Second, the longer a person waits to file suit, the harder it is to collect evidence and gather useful testimony from witnesses.
HOW AN ARKANSAS CAR ACCIDENT ATTORNEY CAN HELP
Statutes of limitations are frequently overlooked by laypeople following an accident, because, for most people, they have never had a reason to learn about them before. Nonetheless, statutes of limitations can make the difference between recovering for your injuries in a car accident and having to pay for them all yourself.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle accident in Arkansas, you should act quickly to protect your legal rights. Contact the expert Arkansas car accident lawyers of Caddell Reynolds for a free consultation today.