If you think you might have a personal injury claim against someone else in Florida, one of the first things to understand is the statute of limitations, and how it applies to your potential case.
The term “statute of limitations” is just legalese for “law that sets a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit.” Every state has passed these kinds of statutes, and there are usually different deadlines for different types of cases.
The statute of limitations that will apply to almost all personal injury lawsuits in Florida can be found at Florida Statutes Annotated section 95.11, which sets a four year deadline for the filing of “an action founded on negligence” and for “an action founded on a statutory liability.” A personal injury lawsuit could fall into either category, since most injury cases are based on the fault principle of negligence, and some kinds of personal injury claims are based on statutory liability, including many dog bite cases.
So, if you were injured in a car accident, in a slip and fall, or in almost any other incident where someone else's carelessness or wrongdoing played a part, you have four years to get your lawsuit filed against that person, and the “clock” starts running on the date of the incident.
If you don't get your Florida personal injury lawsuit filed before the four-year window closes, the person you are trying to sue will almost certainly make a motion to dismiss your lawsuit, the court will grant it, and your injury case will be over before it can even get started.
Exceptions to Florida's Personal Injury Statute of Limitations
There are a few situations in which the running of the Florida statute of limitations “clock” is paused or “tolled,” so that the filing deadline is extended beyond the statutory four years. Here are a few examples:
- The person the lawsuit is being filed against (the potential defendant) is (or has been) out of the state of Florida for part of the four year period.
- The person filing the lawsuit was designated “incapacitated” at the time of the underlying accident (they had some sort of disabling mental condition, for example); but even when this exception applies to extend the filing period, there is a larger deadline which says the lawsuit must be filed within seven years of the underlying accident.
- The person filing the lawsuit was a minor at the time of the underlying accident (but again, the over-arching seven-year deadline applies).
It's important to note that this isn't an exhaustive list. Talk to a Florida attorney for the details on exceptions to the Florida statute of limitations.
Even if you're in settlement talks with the at-fault party's insurance company and you don't think you're going to file a lawsuit over your injury, it's important to keep the statute of limitations deadline in mind. If you don't get the insurance claim process started right away, or if the other side is dragging its heels, four years may not be as long as it sounds. You always want to make sure you have the option of taking your case to court. Without that option, you have no leverage. (Learn more about The Role of Insurance in Settling an Injury Claim.)
If you've got questions about Florida's personal injury statute of limitations and how it applies to your situation -- especially if you've already missed the deadline or it is quickly approaching -- it's time to contact an experienced Florida personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.