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How Long After a Car Accident Can You File an Insurance Claim?

How Long After a Car Accident Can You File an Insurance Claim?
Matthew Collister
Updated March 22, 2022
4 Min Read

Each state has time limits, known as “statutes of limitations,” for filing car insurance claims and lawsuits — most allow for multiple years. However, it’s almost always in your best interest to file a car insurance claim as soon as possible after an accident, ideally within 24 hours. Filing promptly will help your claim go smoothly and increase the chances of getting the reimbursement you deserve.

The clock is ticking on your accident claim

You’re driving home from work and pull up to a stoplight just a few minutes from home. The windows are down, and you’re enjoying some fresh air after a long workday. Suddenly, you’re shaken by a violent jolt and hear a loud boom! After taking a few seconds to gather your senses, you realize that another car has collided with your back bumper. 

Fortunately, you and the other driver seem to be uninjured. Your cars, however, are another story — you realize there’s lots of damage. What you might not realize is that the clock has started ticking on your ability to be reimbursed for that damage.

How long after an accident do you have to file a claim with an insurance company?

Each state has statutes of limitations for filing an insurance claim or lawsuit. These are outlined in the table near the bottom of this article. Depending on the type of claim, some states allow up to four, six, or even 10 years. This means you can technically wait that long before contacting the insurance company to start the claim process. 

However, most car insurance policies state that claims should be filed “promptly” or “within a reasonable amount of time.” It’s usually in your best interest to heed that cue and contact the insurance company to report your claim as soon as possible — ideally within 24 hours. Doing so can help ensure a smoother claim process and increase your chance of being reimbursed.

Tip: While most insurance policies don’t provide a specific time limit for filing claims, a few do. Check your policy paperwork, or contact your insurance company or agent to determine if there’s a time limit for filing claims in your policy contract.

Filing sooner helps the insurance company investigate your claim

It’s easy to understand why insurers want claims to be filed sooner than later. Generally, accident evidence will be easier to gather. The details will be clearer in both your mind and in the minds of any witnesses. It’ll likely be easier for the insurance company to investigate your claim — and that’s a good thing. 

On the other hand, waiting to file may increase the possibility that the insurance company will deny your claim based on its investigation being inhibited by the delay. Fact is, an insurance company may look very suspiciously on a claim filed long after the accident. For example, if the insurer believes that any damage happened after the date of the accident, it may have grounds to deny the claim. You can limit such suspicion by filing promptly.

If you need to file a claim later, be sure to document everything

Sometimes you might indeed have a valid reason for waiting to file. For instance, some injuries might not be apparent for days or weeks. Similarly, some vehicle damage might not be discovered until long after an accident. Just be sure to document everything you can, and be ready to explain to the insurance company why you didn’t file the claim immediately. 

When not to file an auto insurance claim

As a general rule, contact your insurance company if the accident damages another’s vehicle (no matter the apparent size of the damage) or if anyone is injured. However, there are some scenarios in which filing an auto insurance claim may not make sense. 

Say you’re responsible for an accident that causes only minor damage to your car, and the cost to repair would be less than or just above the amount of your collision deductible. In this case, it makes little sense to file a claim. With that said, you might want to get a car repair estimate before making this decision. Sometimes, a minor dent or ding on your car's surface can hide more extensive damage to the internals. 

And if your car insurance policy doesn’t include comprehensive or collision, there’s no sense in filing a claim for those coverages. The insurance company would quickly deny the claim.

Do you need to file a police report?

Another consideration is whether you should file a police report after a car accident. In most states, the law requires that you file a report within a certain time period if anyone is injured, if an involved driver is uninsured, or if the accident causes damage over a certain dollar threshold. Additionally, if you’re unsure of the amount of damage or the other driver is uncooperative, it’s a good idea to contact the local law enforcement and file a report. 

Insurance adjusters look closely at the information in a police report. A report provides objectivity, with facts about the accident and the conditions that led to it. The reporting officer will also conclude which driver is at fault. While the insurance adjuster will come to their own conclusion, they’ll weigh the officer’s opinion carefully.

If you don’t file a police report, there will be no official record of the accident. Determining fault in the accident will come down to your word versus the other driver’s. And if you discover damage or start to feel the effect of an injury well after the date of the accident, you’ll have little to go on to make a claim.

When a claim turns into a lawsuit

The decision to file a lawsuit comes down to economics and fairness. If you think the insurance company’s settlement offer is well short of what you deserve, you can sue to try to get a larger amount. According to research firm IBISWorld, personal injury law is a $42.3 billion market in the U.S. You can easily find an attorney who'll be willing to evaluate your case. 

Again, remember that your ability to file a lawsuit is subject to your state’s statute of limitations. You need to file before the limit expires to have a valid suit.

Statutes of limitations and law-enforcement-reporting requirements

StateBodily injuryProperty damage, collision, comprehensiveReport an accident to law enforcement
State
Alabama
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
30 days
State
Alaska
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
10 days
State
Arizona
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Arkansas
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
30 days
State
California
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
10 days
State
Colorado
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Connecticut
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Delaware
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Florida
Bodily injury
4 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
4 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
10 days
State
Georgia
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
4 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Hawaii
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Idaho
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Illinois
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
5 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
10 days
State
Indiana
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Iowa
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
5 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Kansas
Bodily injury
1 year
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Kentucky
Bodily injury
1 year
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
10 days
State
Louisiana
Bodily injury
1 year
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
1 year
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Maine
Bodily injury
6 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
6 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Maryland
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
15 days
State
Massachusetts
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
5 days
State
Michigan
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Minnesota
Bodily injury
6 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
6 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
10 days
State
Mississippi
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Missouri
Bodily injury
5 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
5 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
30 days
State
Montana
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Nebraska
Bodily injury
4 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
4 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
10 days
State
Nevada
Bodily injury
1 year
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
1 year
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
New Hampshire
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
15 days
State
New Jersey
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
6 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
New Mexico
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
4 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
New York
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
5 days
State
North Carolina
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
North Dakota
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Ohio
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
6 months
State
Oklahoma
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Oregon
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
6 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
3 days
State
Pennsylvania
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
5 days
State
Rhode Island
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
10 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
21 days
State
South Carolina
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
15 days
State
South Dakota
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Tennessee
Bodily injury
1 year
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
20 days
State
Texas
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
10 days
State
Utah
Bodily injury
4 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Vermont
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
5 days
State
Virginia
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
5 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Washington
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
4 days
State
Washington, D.C.
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
5 days
State
West Virginia
Bodily injury
2 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
2 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
5 days
State
Wisconsin
Bodily injury
3 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
3 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
Immediately
State
Wyoming
Bodily injury
4 years
Property damage, collision, comprehensive
4 years
Report an accident to law enforcement
10 days

Take control of your claim

Being in a car accident can disrupt your routine, and filing a claim may leave you with a sense of powerlessness. The antidote is to do what you can to take control of the situation. 

  • File a claim as soon as possible — within 24 hours of an accident. 
  • Contact law enforcement to file a police report. 
  • Contact an attorney if you believe the insurance company’s claim settlement offer is too low. 

By doing so, you’re helping create conditions to ensure you get the payout you deserve. And that’s a powerful feeling.

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