Leslie is driving down a four-lane main street in Topeka when the car in the next lane suddenly swerves and sideswipes her, sending Leslie's car into a telephone pole. Leslie was not wearing her seat belt, and her head hits the steering wheel. She blacks out, and the police call an ambulance to take her to the hospital.
At the hospital, Leslie is diagnosed with a broken nose, facial fractures, concussion, and neck and upper back pain. She is referred to her family practitioner and a maxillofacial surgeon for follow-up care. Over the next three months, the broken nose and facial fractures heal. Leslie suffers headaches from post-concussion syndrome for five months. Her neck and back pain is diagnosed as muscle strain and spasm. (Learn more about Common Car Accident Injuries.)
Leslie saw a chiropractor for a month, and her neck and back felt much better. Finally, after five months, she is ready to return to work. Leslie is an administrative assistant at a financial planning office, and spends her whole day looking at a computer screen. Because of her concussion, she got headaches whenever she used a computer for more than half an hour, so she stayed out of work for five months.
Leslie first needs to understand her legal obligations when it comes to reporting the accident. Learn more: Do I need to report a car accident in Kansas?
Even though Kansas is a no-fault car insurance state (more on this below), Leslie needs to be aware of Kansas's statute of limitations, which sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In Kansas, the statute of limitations for car accidents is two years. This means, if you were involved in a car accident as a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or property owner, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in the state's courts.
Why is this law so important? If your injuries are serious enough that Kansas's no-fault insurance system permits you to make a claim against the driver who caused the accident, but you don't file a lawsuit within the time period set by the statute of limitations, your case is almost certainly over. If you can't settle your case well before the statute of limitations deadline passes, it may be time to contact a Kansas car accident lawyer.
If Leslie's injuries are serious enough to permit her to file a lawsuit against the other driver (rather than simply making a no-fault claim under her own insurance coverage), she needs to be aware of Kansas's rules of comparative negligence because the person that hit her could claim that Leslie was negligent herself for not being aware that the other driver was trying to get into Leslie's lane.
Under Kansas's "modified comparative fault" rule, Leslie's total damages award would be reduced by whatever percentage of the "fault" the judge or jury believes is hers. (If Leslie is deemed 25 percent at fault, her award is reduced by 25 percent.) However, if Leslie is found to be greater than 50% at fault for the crash, she would receive no damages whatsoever.
In order to maximize your potential recovery, whether you go to trial or just settle the case with the defendant's adjuster, you want to make absolutely sure that the adjuster knows that you did nothing wrong. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.)
Under Kansas no-fault car insurance laws, in order to step outside of the no-fault system and file a liability claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver in Kansas, you must exceed your PIP amount and have suffered a "serious injury," which Kansas defines as including any of the following:
In Leslie's case, let's assume that her injuries are serious enough to permit her to make a liability claim against the other driver. Her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $54,500. The breakdown looks like this:
Leslie and her attorney decide that another $75,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Leslie's pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $125,000 to settle the claim. After negotiating with the insurance adjuster, Leslie accepts a final settlement of $85,000.
As mentioned above, you want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before the statute of limitations expires. But you also don't want to settle it too early -- meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI.
In Leslie's case, she was at MMI, and so she was ready to settle. Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.