Bartlesville Lawyer BlogIn Automobile Accident Lawsuit: What a Difference a Day Makes

Court Rules on Statute of Limitations In Car Crash

One day can make a huge difference when it comes to legal deadlines. The Oklahoma Supreme Court last week reversed a Court of Civil Appeals decision involving a one-year statute of limitations in a car-accident lawsuit against Logan County. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court that had earlier dismissed the claim.

In this case, the Supreme Court avoided addressing whether a document submitted 10 minutes late was properly filed, but found other reasons based in Oklahoma law to keep the car-accident lawsuit alive. When Oklahoma law allows injured parties a year after an incident to file a notice of claim, that one-year statute of limitations does not include the day the incident occurred, the court found.

The case started with a tragic motor-vehicle accident on July 19, 2008 that took the life of one man and seriously injured another. The injured passenger and the estate of the man killed initiated a tort claim, filing a notice of claim with Logan County alleging negligence. The county was negligent in roadside warnings, signage and maintenance of county roads, which resulted in injuries, lost wages and medical expenses along with past, present and future pain and suffering, the lawsuit alleged. The father of the man killed asserted a claim for damages allowed for wrongful death.

On July 17, 2009, an employee of the law firm representing the accident victim and the estate of the deceased passenger attempted to hand deliver a tort claim to the Logan County Clerk’s Office but arrived 10 minutes after the office had closed. According to court documents, a county commission employee agreed to accept the claim, and to stamp it as received on Friday, July 17. Instead, the claim was stamped with a July 20 date – on Monday when the County Clerk returned to work.

Attorneys for the county moved that the lawsuit be dismissed. They argued that the plaintiffs had filed the claim one day late. The district court agreed. Plaintiffs appealed, but the appeals court affirmed the district court’s decision.

Plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to review the case, continuing to assert that their tort notice had been filed on July 17, the day a county commission employee allegedly agreed to accept the notice after the county clerk’s office had closed.

Calculating Oklahoma’s Civil Statute of Limitations

Plaintiffs and the county agreed on at least one matter: the claim was stamped as received on July 20. Rather than settle the dispute over when the claim was actually filed, the Supreme Court looked at Oklahoma Rules of Civil Procedure with regard to computation of times. Those rules say the time computation starts after – not on – the date an incident occurred. Hence, the one-year statute of limitations for filing a tort claim against political subdivision of Oklahoma (such as a city or county) for a July 19, 2008 car crash would be July 19, 2009.

Since July 19, 2009 was a Sunday, Oklahoma civil procedures extend the deadline to the next day. Nobody disputed the notice was received by July 20, on the last day allowed within the statute of limitations as interpreted in last week’s Supreme Court decision.

We sometimes hear complaints that too many cases are decided on technicalities instead of on the merits of the case. In this instance, the case has not yet been decided, but narrowly avoided being dismissed on what might be considered a technicality. For better or worse, law by its very nature is technical. That’s why it’s important to retain counsel who appreciates not only the merits of a case, but who has a profound understanding of the technical requirements of the law.

If you’ve been injured in a car-crash or motor-vehicle accident and the actions of a public agency seem to be the cause, you may be entitled to compensation. Just as litigants and their attorneys are bound by rules of procedure, standards for road signage are usually well established by federally or state recognized documents. When relevant standards are not met, local jurisdictions many be liable for any damages that result. If you’ve been injured in a car-crash or motor-vehicle accident and the actions of a public agency seem to be the cause, you may be entitled to compensation.

Free Consultation: Bartlesville Car Crash Attorney

For a free confidential consultation about a automobile accident or motor vehicle crash claim, a claim related to negligence by a public agency or any other personal injury matter, contact Bartlesville automobile accident attorney Peter Knowles at the Wirth Law Office – Bartlesville now at (918) 213-0950, toll free at (888) 947-8452 or use the form at the top of this page to ask the attorney.

Read the full text of the Supreme Court decision here: Slawson v. Board of County Commissioners, 2012 Ok 87

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