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How long after a car accident can you file a claim?

There usually isn't a hard deadline for car insurance claims, but your insurer will expect that you communicate with them in a timely fashion.

Updated

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It's hard for insurers to set hard deadlines for claims because some damage settlements can take years. That means most insurers won't set a claims deadline but will expect full cooperation, which includes notifying them of potential claims as soon as possible after an accident.

The major exception is with injury claims, which are handled through your state's CTP scheme. CTP claim deadlines ensure injured people get the benefits they need in a timely manner. These can be as little as one month after consulting a lawyer to one year after the accident, depending on your state and the particulars of the accident.

How soon after an accident should I file a claim?

Generally speaking, filing a claim as soon as possible after an accident helps your insurer pay all the bills and accident expenses more quickly. Claims take time to process, so the sooner you file, the sooner you're likely to see a reimbursement or payment from your provider.

Time limits for different types of claims

When you make an insurance claim related to a car accident, you'll be making a claim for injuries, property damage or both. The time limits for making these claims differ from state to state and are based on the type of claim.

Injury claims

Injury claims are handled by CTP insurers and the time limits are set according to your state's CTP scheme. They can run anywhere from one month after consulting a lawyer to one year after the accident – and even longer in the case of children.

The benefits you can get from CTP are generally broken down into two categories, though it can differ slightly between states.

  • Statutory benefits. These are basic benefits that cover injuries and loss of earnings for a set amount of time after the accident. This is mainly for the driver that wasn't at fault, although more and more states are allowing the at-fault driver to access some of these benefits as well.
  • Personal damages. The not-at-fault driver can go after the at-fault driver's CTP insurance company for more compensation if their injuries are bad enough that they experience ongoing economic damage (and sometimes even non-economic damage like pain and suffering) that outlasts their statutory damages.

Property claims

Property claims are a little different. Insurers don't typically have a hard deadline for filing a claim, but they will request that you tell them about any potential claim as soon as possible after an accident so that they'll have time to investigate.

If you cause damage to someone else's property, they often have years before they're no longer able to go after you in court. That makes it even more important for you to report accidents early, so that your insurer can start to investigate right away on your behalf.

Injury and property damage by state

Here are the maximum time limits to make the various types of claims for each state. Most states will extend some of these time limits if you can show you had a good reason for the delay. Some states have slightly different time limits if the injured person is a child.

A note about these limits

We've designed the chart below to be as accurate and up to date as possible, but it's intended to be a rough guide. If you consult an attorney for advice before filing a suit, this could save you trouble down the road; lawyers are experts on state laws and they should be able to guide you through the process.

Maximum length of time you can wait before you make a car insurance claim

StateStatutory benefits (injury or death) Personal damages (injury) Personal damages (property)
NSW
  • 3 months after the date of the accident
3 years after becoming aware of the injury or 12 years after the accident, whichever is earlier6 years after the accident
VIC
  • Under 18: By age of 21
  • Everyone else: 1 year after you first notice the injury
6 years after the accident6 years after the accident
QLD
  • Vehicle cannot be identified: 3 months
  • You have a lawyer handling the claim: 1 month after consulting a lawyer
  • Everyone else: 9 months after you notice the injury.
3 years after the accident6 years after the accident
SA
  • Vehicle cannot be identified or is uninsured: As soon as is reasonable
  • Everybody else: 6 months after the accident
3 years after the accident6 years after the accident
WA
  • 6 months after the accident
3 years after the accident6 years after the accident
TAS
  • 12 months after the accident
3 years after becoming aware of the injury6 years after the accident
ACT
  • To receive early benefits: 30 days after the accident
  • To receive additional benefits: Claiming through a CTP insurer: 9 months
  • Claiming through the Nominal Defendant: 3 months
  • You have a lawyer handling the claim: 1 month
3 years after becoming aware of the injury6 years after the accident
NT
  • 6 months after the accident
3 years after the accident

Is it ever worth it to wait before filing?

As long as you notify your insurer in a timely fashion and don't blow past your CTP claims deadlines, there are some cases where it may be worth waiting a while before submitting your claim. Here are some pros and cons of doing so:

Pros

  • Get a more comprehensive claim. Most providers won't allow you to file more than one claim for one accident, and if they do, the process can be much more complex.
  • Get a second opinion from doctors. Waiting to file can buy you time to consult with more than one doctor to better assess your medical situation. This can save you trouble in the long run, both in terms of your health and how much your medical care costs you.
  • Make the most of your available cover. It's possible that if you rush to file your claim, you'll forget or miss an item that insurance would have covered if you had the chance to look through your claim again.

Cons

  • Longer wait before reimbursement or payment. Depending on your circumstances, you might need your claim paid out sooner rather than later. When you wait to file, that just delays the claims process.
  • Possible late bill payments. If you wait too long to file and it delays the payment of important charges or bills, you might get reported for a past-due payment to a credit reporting agency. If this happens, it could have a negative impact on your credit score.

How long will it take to have my claim processed?

According to the General Insurance Code of Practice, your insurer has 10 business days from the day they receive your claim to respond with the outcome or to let you know if they need more time to collect information or conduct further investigation.

If they do need more time, they must tell you what else they need from you, give you an estimated time frame for completion and inform you of their progress at least every 20 business days.

Bottom line

If you're injured or your property is damaged in a car accident, it can take weeks or even months to assess the true cost of fixing what's wrong.

Waiting before filing your claim or lawsuit with your insurer might help you get the cover you'll ultimately need. But if you exceed your state's statute of limitations, you could completely miss out on filing your claim or settlement, leaving you with a financial burden.

To find out how property insurance law can affect your car insurance claim, it can help to speak to your insurance agent or an insurance professional. For more information on everything to do with auto coverage, you can read our comprehensive guide to car insurance and our insurance guides for each state.

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