How Long Do You Have to File an Insurance Claim After a Car Accident?

Last Updated on July 23, 2018

Filing an insurance claim after an accident can be a tricky process. One of the first things you need to worry about is when to file.

How long do you have to file an insurance claim after a car accident? How long can you wait before contacting your insurance company? Today, we’re answering all your questions about how long you have to file an insurance claim after a car accident.

You Should Report the Accident As Soon As Possible

Generally speaking, you’ll want to report an accident as soon as possible – even if you’re at the scene, assuming it’s safe to do so.

All major insurance companies have a 24 hour accident claims hotline. Many insurance companies also let you make claims over a mobile app.

The sooner you start your car insurance claim, the sooner you’ll be able to receive compensation for the collision and any damages.

Insurance Companies Have Specific Claims Windows Within Which You’re Required to Make a Claim – But These Windows Are Private

car accident claimAll insurance companies have a specific window for making a claim. You cannot make a claim outside of that window. If you don’t report an accident within that window, then it’s unlikely you’ll receive compensation.

Unfortunately, insurance companies do not make their claims windows public. Furthermore, claims windows are specific for each policy – which means your claims window might be different than another driver’s claims window, and the claims window for your collision coverage might be different than the claims window for your comprehensive coverage.

Fortunately, you can contact your insurance company or your insurance agent to ask about the claim window.

Generally speaking, your insurance company will tell you that you need to initiate a claim within 24 hours of the incident. However, this is rarely a hard requirement, and your insurance company may accept your claim for weeks or even months after the accident.

States Have Civil Statutes of Limitations for Filing Lawsuits

Most car accident cases do not involve lawsuits. However, sometimes, lawsuits are necessary – say, if the insurance company fails to adequately cover your damages.

If you need to file a lawsuit over a car accident, then you might run into strict time limits in your state. Each state has a civil statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit.

The clock begins ticking on the day of the accident. If you wait 12 months after the accident to sue the other driver or your insurance company, then you’re already 12 months into the statute of limitations.

Your state might have different time limits for different types of claims. Some states, for example, give you two years to file a personal injury claim but five years to file a claim for damages to personal property. In other words, you can only sue for medical expenses and similar bills within two years of the accident, but you can sue for vehicle damages up to five years after the accident.

You can view statute of limitations information for each state here. Most states have a bodily injury statute of limitations of 2 to 5 years and a property/collision/comprehensive statute of limitations of 3 to 5 years. In some states, the statute of limitations is as long as 6 years. drivers in Minnesota and Maine, for example, have 6 years to file a lawsuit for either a bodily injury claim or a property damage claim.

Conclusion: Time Limits Vary Widely Across States and Insurance Policies

Ultimately, the time limit for filing a car insurance claim varies widely between car insurance policies, states, and drivers.

Generally speaking, most insurance companies want you to make a claim as soon as possible after an incident – like within 24 hours of the incident. However, insurance companies keep their actual claims windows private, and claims windows can vary between policies.

Meanwhile, states have different laws regarding when you actually need to make a claim for a lawsuit. This is called the statute of limitations. Typically, the statute of limitations for bodily injury claims – like medical expenses – is between 2 to 4 years, while the statute of limitations for property damage claims – like car repair costs – is 3 to 5 years, although limits vary widely between states.

If you’ve waited too long to file an insurance claim and your insurance company is refusing to cover your claim, then you may wish to speak with a car accident attorney. A good car accident attorney can help you seek compensation even if your insurance claims window has expired – assuming you haven’t exceeded the civil statute of limitations for your state.

The sooner you start your insurance claim, the better off you’ll be.

James Shaffer
James Shaffer James Shaffer is a writer for and a well-seasoned auto insurance industry veteran. He has a deep knowledge of insurance rules and regulations and is passionate about helping drivers save money on auto insurance. He is responsible for researching and writing about anything auto insurance-related. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bentley University and his work has been quoted by NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post.
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