Bonnie is driving down a country road in Guymon when a farm tractor pulls onto the road and side-swipes her on the passenger side. The collision causes Bonnie to lose control. She swerves across the road and ends up in a ditch on the other side.
Bonnie suffers a broken left shoulder. The police come and call an ambulance. At the hospital, the ER doctor puts her in a sling and refers her to an orthopedist. She sees the orthopedist periodically for ten weeks. When her shoulder heals, she is referred to physical therapy so that she can recover strength and flexibility in the shoulder. She goes to physical therapy three times a week for six weeks and then continues with home exercises. Ten months after the accident, she is feeling 90% better. The orthopedist assures her that she should expect a full recovery from her car accident injuries in approximately another six months.
Bonnie is a housekeeper for a local motel. She was unable to work for two months.
As her claim proceeds, Bonnie needs to be aware of Oklahoma’s statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In Oklahoma, the statute of limitations for lawsuits over 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. This two-year deadline is the same whether the lawsuit is over injury or property damage (or both).
If you have not settled the case, and 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. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you can’t settle your case well before the statute of limitations expires, it may be time to contact a Oklahoma car accident lawyer.
Bonnie wants to make sure that the adjuster has all of the medical and financial documentation that supports her claim for damages. She also wants to make sure that the adjuster has all of the information necessary to evaluate who was at fault in the accident. This is important in any car accident case.
And even in Bonnie’s case, where liability seems pretty straightforward because of the way the defendant barreled onto the road, the defendant’s adjuster and lawyer may still argue that the tractor had the right of way or that Bonnie should have seen the tractor coming onto the road.
Oklahoma follows what is called a “modified comparative fault” rule when the person who is bringing an injury claim (the plaintiff) also bears some amount of fault for the underlying accident. Under this rule, the plaintiff's total damages award is reduced by whatever percentage of the “fault” the judge or jury believes is theirs. If, for example, you were awarded $150,000 in damages, but were found 20% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $120,000. However, if you were found to be more than 50% at fault, you would receive no damages whatsoever under Oklahoma law.
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.)
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under Oklahoma car insurance laws. But if your medical bills and other damages exceed those minimums, and the other driver carries no additional coverage, then an insurance settlement may not cover your losses. In that situation, you may want to talk to an attorney about your other options.
In Bonnie’s case, her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $20,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Bonnie and her attorney decide that another $40,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Bonnie’s pain and suffering, and they make an initial demand of $60,000 to settle the claim. After presenting their demand to the insurance adjuster, they find that the other driver only had coverage of $50,000 per person. But after negotiating further, Bonnie accepts $42,500 from the insurer to settle the case.
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 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 Bonnie’s case, she was at MMI, and so she was ready to settle.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.