After a car accident in Wisconsin, if you are thinking about filing a claim over injuries or vehicle damage, it's critical to have an understanding of how the "statute of limitations" applies to your potential case. This is a law that sets a limit on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit in civil court. Every state has these statutes on the books, with different deadlines depending on the kind of case you want to file.
The main reason why you need to have the Wisconsin statute of limitations deadline in mind -- and make sure to follow it -- is that if the time limit has passed and you try to file your car accident lawsuit anyway, the court is almost certain to dismiss your case (after the person you're trying to file against files a motion to dismiss in which they point out the missed deadline). There are some limited situations that will "toll" (or pause) the running of the statute of limitations "clock" in Wisconsin. If you've got questions about these exceptions, an experienced Wisconsin attorney will have the answers.
That's why the statute of limitations matters. Now, what is the applicable deadline in Wisconsin?
The statute of limitations that will apply to most Wisconsin car accident lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to the majority of personal injury cases filed in the state. Specifically, Wisconsin Statutes section 893.54 says, "An action to recover damages for injuries to the person" must be filed in Wisconsin's civil court system within three years of the date of the underlying incident. So, that includes any injury claim brought by a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or bicyclist after a traffic accident.
But if you only want to file a lawsuit over vehicle damage, you must get it filed against any potential defendant (i.e. the other driver) within six years of the accident, according to Wisconsin Statutes section 893.52.
You may doubt that you're going to need to file a lawsuit over your car accident. But it's still important to have the Wisconsin statute of limitations deadline in mind throughout the car insurance claim process. You always want to have the threat of filing a lawsuit as a bargaining chip, especially if things get contentious. If the adjuster knows you can always call off settlement talks and take the case to court, that's a big incentive for them to offer you a reasonable settlement and put the matter behind them, instead of putting it in the hands of an unpredictable jury.
Bottom line: Protect your rights, and keep all of your options open for getting compensation after a car accident. Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time under the applicable Wisconsin statute of limitations. And if the deadline is approaching, it may be time to turn your case over to an experienced Wisconsin car accident attorney.
Learn more about Car Accident Laws in Wisconsin.