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Can I Sue for an Old Injury?

Can I Sue for an Old Injury?

If you suffered an injury in an accident or incident that happened a long time ago, but the injury has manifested symptoms only now, you might wonder if you can sue for your old injury. The question is quite common, especially among those who did not receive timely medical attention and did not realize they had suffered an injury.

Even if months or years have passed since you sustained the injury, obtaining compensation for your losses and damages may still be possible. However, the longer you go without documenting your injury, the more difficult it becomes to link the injury to the accident, and, at a certain point (if the statute of limitation expires), you may no longer be eligible for compensation.

The best step to take in this situation is to immediately seek a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer who can advise you of your rights regarding an old injury.

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What Is an Old Injury?

Sue for an Old InjuryIn the legal context, an old injury refers to any physical harm that occurred long ago and caused damages and/or losses to the injured person. In many cases, a person is dealing with an “old injury” when they have only recently discovered their injury or the connection between it and a specific event. They may sustain an injury in any scenario, including a car or workplace accident.

Whether or not a person can sue for an old injury if the accident happened a long time ago is tricky and depends on the specifics of each individual’s case. Since everyone’s situation is unique, it may be a good idea to schedule a consultation with an attorney who can advise you on your legal options regardless of how much has passed from the date of injury.

What Is a Statute of Limitations and Why Does It Matter?

The statute of limitations varies by state and by the type of claim. For personal injury cases, the time frame typically ranges from one to six years, with two years being common in many jurisdictions, including California. This time period usually starts at the date of the accident or discovery of injury. The exact limits can vary depending on the case’s specifics, so you might want to consult an attorney. If you do not initiate legal action before the statute of limitation expires, you risk losing your right to compensation.

The rationale behind the statute of limitations is twofold:

  • First, it encourages plaintiffs to pursue their claims on time diligently;
  • Second, it helps ensure fairness to defendants by preventing injured persons from dragging out the claim with the intention of harassment.

Over time, evidence may degrade, and memories can fade, making it difficult to achieve a fair trial. By setting a legal time limit, the law aims to preserve the integrity of the judicial process.

Can You Sue for an Old Injury if the Statute of Limitations Has Expired?

If the statute of limitations has expired and you haven’t initiated legal action before the deadline, you will most likely be barred from pursuing your compensation claim. We say “most likely” because there are certain exceptions to the statute of limitations, which we will discuss in the section below. In all other cases where no exceptions or special rules apply, however, you cannot sue for an old injury if the statute of limitations has passed.

Suing the person who caused your injury is not the only way to obtain compensation for your damages and losses. In fact, given that 97 percent of all tort claims settle out of court, you may not need to file a lawsuit, as out-of-court negotiations with the at-fault party and/or their insurance company may be enough to get the compensation you need.

Exceptions to Suing for an Old Injury When the Statute of Limitations Has Passed

Even though statutes of limitations are rigidly enforced in every state, some exceptions can extend, pause, or “toll” the limitations period. Here are some conditions under which the statute might be extended in the state of California:

  • Delayed discovery. Sometimes, the injured party might not realize right away that they have been harmed. Some injuries or conditions may take years to manifest or be diagnosed. The “discovery rule” may allow the statute of limitations to start from when the injury was discovered or should reasonably have been discovered rather than when the injury occurred. When this exception applies, the statute of limitations to sue for an old injury is one year from the date of discovery.
  • You were underage. Most states, including California, have provisions that delay the start of the statute of limitations for plaintiffs who were minors at the time of the injury. In California, the clock starts running on the individual’s 18th birthday, giving them time until their 20th birthday to file a lawsuit.
  • You were incapacitated. If the injured party was legally incapacitated or mentally incompetent at the time of the injury and can not manage their affairs or file a lawsuit, courts often toll the statute of limitations until the incapacity is lifted.
  • The defendant left the state. If the person who caused the injury leaves the state for a period after the incident and is not available to be sued, the statute of limitations may be paused or “tolled” until they return, rendering them reachable again by the court.

These exceptions highlight potential scenarios where suing for an old injury after the standard statute of limitations has passed can still be possible. However, laws and interpretations vary across jurisdictions, and everyone’s case is unique. That is why it is crucial to discuss the specifics of your case with a personal injury attorney and determine if any of the exceptions mentioned above apply to your situation.

Why Do People Wait Too Long to File an Injury Claim & How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Benefit?

Often, there are four primary reasons why people wait too long to file a compensation claim, which eventually classifies their injury as an “old injury” in legal terms:

They do not realize they suffered an injury

Many people do not realize they have suffered an injury, especially when symptoms are delayed or the injury is not visible. In cases of traumatic brain injuries, for instance, symptoms might not appear until days or even weeks after the incident.

  • How a personal injury attorney can help: An attorney can guide injury victims through medical evaluation and documentation, ensuring that all immediate and delayed injuries are properly documented and linked to the incident. Legal advice at early stages ensures victims do not overlook potentially compensable injuries.

They need some time to process what happened

The aftermath of a traumatic event in which a person suffers injuries is often characterized by confusion, shock, and numbness. During this time, initiating a legal process might seem overwhelming or premature for the victims as they focus on immediate recovery and regaining a sense of normalcy as much as possible.

  • How an attorney can help: Working with an attorney early on gives victims the mental and emotional space they need to recover. At the same time, someone with experience handles the complexities of their claim. An attorney can alleviate the pressure by managing the legal aspects, allowing the victim to focus on healing.

They do not know they have a right to file a claim

A common barrier to filing an injury claim is not knowing there’s a right to do so. Many victims may underestimate the severity of their injury or its long-term implications, assuming that a claim is not warranted or would be unsuccessful.

  • How a personal injury lawyer can help: An attorney can provide a comprehensive overview of a victim’s rights and the potential for compensation. They can outline the possible outcomes and offer an objective perspective on the viability of a case, ensuring victims are fully informed about their options.

They want to postpone the financial burden of legal proceedings

The cost of legal representation and court fees can deter individuals from pursuing a personal injury claim, as they may not have the financial means to cover these expenses.

  • How an attorney can help: Many personal injury attorneys operate on a contingency fee basis, so the clients do not pay for their services unless they receive compensation from the case.

Factors That Influence Your Ability to Recover Compensation for an Old Injury

Recover CompensationPersonal injury cases are not created equal. This is especially true if you suffered an injury a long time ago. However, this does not mean there is nothing you can do. On the contrary, you can. At least six factors influence the likelihood of obtaining compensation for an old injury.

1. Timely Discovery

A critical aspect of pursuing compensation in a personal injury case is the concept of “timely discovery.” It refers to the period when you first became aware or should have reasonably become aware of the injury and its potential impacts. Legal systems often recognize that some injuries or their consequences are not immediately apparent, which can toll the statute of limitations.

  • Tip: Keep detailed records of when symptoms first appeared and consult a medical professional to establish the likely onset of the injury. It will help pinpoint the discovery date, which is critical for your legal timeline.

2. Proper Documentation

The phrase “if it wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen” holds true in many courtrooms. However, the type of documentation and its quality can make or break a case. If there is limited evidence available because the injury happened a long time ago, you may need legal counsel to obtain and get access to documentation related to the incident.

  • Tip: The more evidence you can compile, the better. Gather all possible documentation of your injury, including medical bills, photographs, and communications with healthcare providers.

3. Thorough Medical Records

Your medical records tell your injury’s story in a language the courts understand. However, the narratives within these records must be clear and aligned with your legal claim. For old injuries, clarity in medical records is essential. Including detailed descriptions, test results, and treatment plans solidifies the link between the documented injury and its impact on your life.

  • Tip: Visit healthcare professionals regularly and ensure that every visit, treatment, and prognosis related to your injury is meticulously documented.

4. Tolling of the Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations sets the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. However, certain circumstances, such as the delayed discovery of an injury, can toll or extend this timeframe. Understanding the specific conditions for tolling in your jurisdiction and whether they apply to your case can be critical in your ability to seek compensation.

  • Tip: Consult an injury lawyer instead of wasting your limited time on Googling. Legal counsel can provide invaluable assistance in identifying tolling provisions that can extend your time to file a claim.

5. Expert Testimony

Experts can offer insights into the nature of your injury, its likely cause, and long-term effects. This testimony can be particularly influential in cases where the connection between the incident and the injury is not immediately evident or was not properly documented when the injury happened.

  • Tip: Your case will benefit from experts or specialists who can provide authoritative testimony on the lack of symptoms, the injury’s long-term repercussions on your health and lifestyle, or anything else that can bolster your old injury claim.

6. Legal Representation

The heart of the matter is that old injuries hold the potential for compensation. However, they also present unique challenges and considerations. An attorney can offer strategic advice, manage complex legal procedures, and advocate on your behalf. Leveraging an attorney’s experience can increase your chances of securing the maximum compensation available when dealing with an old injury claim.

  • Tip: Find an injury attorney with a proven track record in handling similar cases. Before hiring an attorney, inquire about their experience representing clients with old injuries.

If you want to know if you can still sue for an old injury after all the years have passed or if any other avenues for compensation are available, you can schedule a consultation with an attorney. Many law firms offer free, no-obligation initial consultations, which means you have nothing to lose if you reach out to speak with a personal injury attorney.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation Today!