Each state puts specific time limits on how long you have to file any type of claim. These laws are called “statutes of limitations.” The length of time differs depending on what happened and who did it.
In Oregon, some of the statutes of limitation are found in chapter 12 of the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS Ch. 12). But not all time limits are found there, and there are countless exceptions to general rules, so we must sometimes look elsewhere to determine how long you have to file suit.
Some cases have a much shorter time frame (such as when you are suing a state or local government, or when you are suing someone for serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person who later drives a car and hurts or kills someone). Because these limits can be as short as 180 days (ORS 30.275), getting legal advice quickly is essential to preserving your claim.
The time limit for most personal injury claims in Oregon is two years. (But there are many exceptions to this general rule.) If you have not settled your case you must file a lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations, or your claim will become time-barred and worthless. If this happens the other side does not have to pay for anything, no matter how wrongful their conduct. You must either have settled your case or filed a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires.
Some cases sometimes (but not always) have longer time frames (such as when the person injured is a minor, or the cause of harm is hidden). The rules for these exceptions are complex and you should not assume that any exception will apply to your case. (For example, not all cases involving minors have extended deadlines and not all hidden injury cases have extended deadlines.) If you even think you may be a coming up on a legal deadline, check with an attorney. As you can see, this can get complicated and confusing quickly.
Filing a lawsuit does not mean your relationship with the insurance company has to become hostile. Insurance companies understand that you need to protect your rights by filing the lawsuit to meet the statute of limitations. Do not rely on an oral agreement with the insurance company that it will pay your claim after the statute of limitations expires. (You may think you have an agreement and the insurance company may not.) An oral agreement to extend the statute of limitations would probably not be enforced by a court. If you are approaching a statute of limitations, contact an attorney right away to help protect your interests.
Because correctly determining legal deadlines can be very complex, even for an attorney (it is the number one cause of legal malpractice in personal injury law), you should find out early on the specific deadlines in your case. Because deadlines are strictly enforced, missing a deadline by even one day will bar your claim. In some instances, when there is only one defendant, you can ask the guilty person’s insurance company to tell you in writing what the legal deadline is for your case. If you have that deadline in writing from the other side’s insurance company, you can rely on that date as being correct, but only as to that defendant. (A different deadline may apply to other defendants.)
How do I get my bills paid?
In motor vehicle accident cases (and in some other cases) we can help get your bills paid, even before you are ready to settle the rest of your claims. Oregon law requires your own automobile insurance policy to pay your medical bills and lost wages up to a certain limit. If you are hurt on someone else’s property, the insurance policy covering that property will usually contain some “medical pay” provisions that will allow at least some of your medical bills to be paid, even before you are ready to make a claim for the rest of your damages. In very limited circumstances, the other side’s insurance company may even agree to pay for some of your medical bills before you have healed, when doing so will help reduce your total losses. And, of course, if you have health insurance, your health insurance company is required to pay your medical bills, even medical bills incurred because of someone else’s negligence. (Your own health insurance company will want this money back at the conclusion of the case.)
If all else fails, we will help persuade your medical providers to keep providing necessary treatment by giving them a “lien” against your case, meaning that if they continue to treat you, they will be paid out of settlement funds when your case is finally resolved.
If you have been injured in an automobile collision (including injuries as a pedestrian or as bicyclist hit by a motor vehicle), you are protected under the “Personal Injury Protection” (PIP) benefits of your own motor vehicle insurance policy. This means that your own car insurance will pay your medical bills, for up to at least the first year after the collision, or $15,000, whichever is first. (Some automobile insurance policies have PIP benefits that extend beyond the first year, and have higher limits than the minimum $15,000 required by Oregon law.) PIP will also replace your lost wages if you were regularly employed and are disabled from work for at least 14 days. PIP benefits may also pay for substitute services (paying someone to do household jobs that you otherwise would have done yourself), funeral expenses, and child care. All of these benefits have specific conditions and limitations.
If you have exhausted PIP or were injured other than in an auto accident, you have other options.
Your personal health insurance may cover some or all of your medical bills, depending upon the coverage of your policy. Most health insurance policies require a co-pay, have a deductable, or limit the type of care you receive (such as limiting the frequency or duration of physical therapy or chiropractic care). Also, your health insurance company has the right to place a “lien” on your case (which allows it to be paid back when your case settles). The explanation for such reimbursement is that if your health insurance pays your medical bills and the other side’s insurance company also pays your medical bills, then you would have been paid twice for the same loss.
If you do not have health insurance, you may qualify for some special programs that may temporarily cover your medical bills. For example, if you were injured by a person who was also committing a crime (a drunk driver, for example), you may be entitled to have some or all of your medical bills paid by the “criminal compensation fund,” which is funded by fines assessed against criminals generally to pay for the losses sustained by crime victims. Any money advanced to pay your medical bills will usually need to be paid back to the criminal compensation fund when your case settles so that the funds paid back can help pay for the losses suffered by other criminal victims.
In some cases there is no immediate source to pay your medical bills, except by your personal check, cash or credit card. If this is the case, keep detailed receipts to prove what you have spent. These amounts will be included in your claim against the at-fault party.
We will also ask your medical creditors (with your permission) to put a lien on your claim, which means that if they will continue to treat you and not turn your bills over to a collection agency, they will be paid for their services out of your eventual settlement.
Because a personal injury claim can take time to be resolved (because you need to heal first), some medical providers are unwilling to accept a lien and will want payment upfront or upon billing. We will help you navigate through the many obstacles you face and will explain your available options.
If the medical provider is unwilling to accept a lien, it might be willing to reduce its fees in exchange for a payment plan you can afford. Most medical providers are just trying to protect themselves so they can continue providing the same good medical care to others that you received. When you recognize why they take the positions they do, you may be inspired to create a solution that works for both of you. When you’re negotiating with health care providers, remember that you do not want to sour your relationship with them. You need such health care providers for future for medical treatment, and sometimes only that health care provider will be able to accurately document your injuries and treatment. We may be able to write a letter to your medical providers explaining how they will benefit by accepting a lien instead of insisting on immediate payment.
How do I get the proper medical treatment?
Getting proper medical treatment is very important to your physical recovery. This means you need to get enough treatment to properly heal, while avoiding over-treating. In our experience a few chiropractors and a few physical therapists and a few “pain specialists” give a bad name to the other wonderful people of their professions by over-treating injuries for the main purpose of getting insurance company medical payments.
If you find that a medical professional is asking you to come back multiple times a week for month after month and you are not getting better, consult with your primary care physician and ask for other recommendations. Insurance companies properly balk at paying for excessive treatments that do nothing for the patient’s condition. If you over-treat you may be left alone to pay such bills. If you suspect you are being over-treated by an unscrupulous medical provider, stop and consider your options. You see the chiropractor or physical therapist or pain specialist to get better, not to build his practice by incurring his billings.
One of the ways to show the at-fault party’s insurance company that you are hurt as bad as you claim is by quoting from your doctor’s records. Medical charts are written by doctors to document what your complaints are at each visit and what treatment was given. These records help prove your injuries and how these injuries have impacted your life. Doctors are trained to recognize and diagnose problems associated with injuries. Their observations will carry far more weight with the insurance company and jury than your word alone. Getting medical treatment from competent providers is essential for your recovery and also to establish your injury claim.
There are several risks you should be aware of when seeking medical care after an injury. First, beware of any medical provider who claims to specialize in accidents. Insurance companies are skeptical of such a doctor’s conclusions. If your primary care physician takes the time to really know you, she will be able, better than anyone else, to see the difference in your condition before and after your injury. A competent and caring primary care physician can help guide your care by referring you to trusted specialists. Also, make sure your doctor listens to you and treats your injuries. Some doctors hate all lawsuits and will treat you poorly because you are making a claim. Such a doctor will probably not come to court to testify and a doctor with such an attitude probably will not provide the treatment you need.