Joan is a passenger in a car that is hit broadside by another vehicle at an intersection. The car Joan was riding in was struck on the passenger-side front door. As a result of the collision, Joan suffered a broken leg and several broken ribs.
The police come, and call an ambulance to take Joan to the hospital. She gets a cast for her leg and bandages for her ribs, and is released. She is referred to an orthopedist, who she sees every couple of weeks for three months. After the ribs heal and the cast comes off the leg, Joan is sent to physical therapy for a few weeks to regain her strength and flexibility. After eight months, Joan is about 80-90% recovered. The orthopedist told her that she should be fully recovered by about ten to fifteen months after the accident. Joan is an elementary school teacher, and missed an entire term (three months) of school due to the accident.
Even though Minnesota is a no-fault car insurance state, Joan needs to be aware of Minnesota’s statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit. In Minnesota, the statute of limitations for car accidents is two years.
Why is this law so important? If you’re allowed to step outside of Minnesota’s no-fault insurance system and 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 over unless you fall within one of the very limited exceptions that might stop the clock. The lesson here is that if you can’t settle your case well before the two-year statute of limitations window closes, it may be time to contact an experienced Minnesota car accident lawyer. (Learn more about Car Accidents and the Lawsuit Process.)
Even though Joan was a passenger, the other driver (or the insurance company) may still try to claim that Joan was somehow negligent in connection with the accident. When it comes to passenger injury claims, the most common shared fault argument is that the passenger wasn't wearing a seat belt.
Minnesota follows a “modified comparative fault” rule, under which your total damages award is reduced by whatever percentage of "fault” the judge or jury believes is yours. This means if you are found to bear some amount of legal blame with respect to your injury, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault,up to a certain point. If, for example, you were awarded $400,000 in damages, but were found 25% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $300,000. However, if you were found to be 50% or more at fault, you would receive no damages whatsoever.
In order to maximize your potential recovery, you want to make absolutely sure that the defendant’s adjuster knows that you did nothing wrong. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.)
Minnesota's no-fault car insurance system mean that, if you are injured in a car accident in Minnesota, you typically need to handle any claim under the terms of your own no-fault coverage. You can’t ordinarily make a claim against the other driver unless your injuries meet Minnesota's threshold requirement for taking a claim outside of no-fault.
In Joan’s case, let’s assume that her injuries are serious enough to permit her to make liability claims against the other drivers. Her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $53,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Joan and her attorney decide to seek another $150,000 in damages to compensate for Joan’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $210,000 to both insurance adjusters to settle the claim. After negotiating with the insurance adjusters, Joan accepts a final settlement from both adjusters of $115,000.
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 time period runs out. But you also don’t want to settle 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 Joan’s case, she was at MMI, and so she was ready to settle.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.