If you're thinking about filing a lawsuit after any kind of car accident in Maine, whether to get compensation for injuries or for damage to your vehicle, you need to understand the “statute of limitations” and how it applies to your potential case. First, a little background: A “statute of limitations” is a law that limits the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit in civil court. Every state has these laws on the books, with different deadlines depending on the kind of case you want to file.
The statute of limitations for almost all Maine car accident lawsuits comes from Maine Revised Statutes Title 14 Section 752, which contains very broad language: "All civil actions shall be commenced within 6 years after the cause of action accrues and not afterwards."
In plain English, that means you have six years to turn to the state’s civil court system for a remedy after any kind of injury or property damage caused by someone else. So, in the context of a motor vehicle accident, any lawsuit by any driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian injured in the crash will be subject to this six-year filing deadline, as will any lawsuit for vehicle damage.
Why is it so important to pay attention to the statute of limitations? First, if you miss the applicable deadline and try to file your car accident lawsuit anyway, the person you’re trying to sue will almost certainly file a motion to dismiss the case, the court will almost surely grant the motion, and your lawsuit will be over before it can even get started. There are a few situations that will extend the running of the statute of limitations “clock” in Maine, but they are pretty rare. Talk to an experienced Maine car accident attorney for the details on those exceptions.
Even if you are convinced that your car accident claim will reach a settlement through the insurance process, and you're not planning on filing a lawsuit, it’s still important to have the statute of limitations deadline in mind. You always want to have the threat of filing a lawsuit as a bargaining chip during settlement talks. If the insurance company knows you have the option of taking the case to court, they're going to be very motivated to settle and put the matter behind them -- instead of putting it in the hands of a jury. (On a related note, if the adjuster knows that the statutory filing deadline is approaching, he or she may try to stall settlement talks, so be on the lookout for that tactic.)
Bottom line: Make sure you leave yourself plenty of time under Maine's statute of limitations, and keep all of your options open after a car accident. Six years is a long time, but it's always better to turn your car accident claim over to an experienced lawyer sooner rather than later.
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