There are many good reasons why you might consider delaying bringing a claim for compensation after you have been involved in a car accident.
It is likely that your initial thoughts are going to revolve around any injury to yourself and any others in the vehicle with you. You will be seeking medical attention, not solicitors. Then, once the shock has passed your focus is likely to shift onto your recovery. You may be trying to anticipate how this injury will impact your daily life and what you can do to manage this. It can be months or even years before your thoughts turn to any potential claim that you may have.
In other instances, I have met with clients who have considered bringing a claim and decided against it initially but later gone on to change their minds when it has become apparent that their injury is far more severe than they first believed it to be.
Overall there is a multitude of reasons why you wouldn’t bring a claim immediately after suffering a road traffic accident. But how long can you delay?
Under UK law you cannot delay indefinitely, there is a strict time limit as to how long you have to bring a claim. Under the Limitation Act, you only have three years before your claim must be issued at Court. That’s three years from the date of your accident to you physically lodging your claim form with the local Court.
This time limit exists to keep our legal system fair to both Claimants (people bringing claims) and Defendants (those defending claims). It would be unfair if a Defendant could be sued decades after causing an accident, there should be a time when you can draw a line under it and move on. But at the same time Claimant’s will need a certain amount of time to build their claim and get themselves in a position where they are well enough, both mentally and physically, to bring a claim. The UK legislators have declared through the Limitation Act that three years is fair to both Claimants and Defendants.
However, there are some exceptions, certain situations that can extend or reduce the limitation deadline.
If you were under 18 when you were involved in a road traffic accident, then you have until your 21st birthday to lodge your claim at Court. This is three years after your 18th birthday, as the limitation ticking clocks starts running when you turn 18. However, you do not have to wait until you are 18 to bring a claim if you are under 18 you can ask a litigation friend (usually a parent or legal guardian) to bring a claim for you on your behalf while you are underage.
If the person bringing the claim does not have mental capacity then there is no time limit for a claim to be brought. A litigation friend (usually a guardian or legal attorney) can bring a claim on their behalf as long as it is in their best interests to do so.
Beware, however, if you have been involved in a road traffic accident while abroad, other countries have different limitations. Although that being said, you may still be eligible to claim under UK law. You should discuss any potential claim with a solicitor as soon as you are able.
If you miss the limitation deadline for your claim, then you could lose your right to pursue it all together. However, if there is an excellent reason for you missing the deadline, then you can ask the Courts permission to pursue your claim, despite missing the deadline. You will have to explain in detail to the Court why you missed the deadline and you will need a perfect reason for doing so (such as being in a coma and unable to make a claim). Merely being unaware of the limitation deadline is not a good enough excuse.
The Court will then consider your reasons, as well as looking at what disadvantage you and the Defendant will suffer if they decide either way.
The Court can take into consideration, why you delayed or missed the deadline, what the delay will do to the evidence in the claim, will it damage it or reduce it? They will also review your conduct and the Defendant’s conduct. Did you struggle to identify the Defendant? Did they deliberately mislead or take steps to prevent you identifying them? Have you worked hard to advance your claim in other respects such as obtaining evidence medical or physical?
It is impossible to predict if the Court will grant you an extension of the limitation deadline. The best advice is not to miss the deadline in the first place.
In conclusion, if you have suffered a road traffic accident you have three years from the date of the accident to bring a claim unless you are under 18 or lack mental capacity.
However, if you plan on bringing a claim, you should not wait until the end of the deadline to do so. There is a lot of work involved in bringing a claim, and if you are using a solicitor, they will need time to build your case. If you are pursuing the claim yourself, the sooner you start, the better as you will be putting extra pressure on yourself if you delay. Once a claim is issued at Court, it becomes subject to strict Court deadlines so beware.