A statute of limitations is a law that assigns a certain time in which an individual’s rights can be legally enforced. The statute of limitations for an injury claim will depend on the type of claim being asserted and the location where the claim is being brought.
Car, Truck, Motorcycle, Bicycle, and Tractor-Trailer Accidents
Accidents Without Underinsured Motorist Claims
In the State of Florida, a claim for negligence arising from a car accident has a statute of limitations of four years. See Fla. Stats. §95.11(3)(a), (k). This includes a claim against the at-fault party (i.e., the individual who caused the accident).
Similarly, an injury claim arising from a defective product (negligence), or an injury that occurs on or because of someone else’s property (negligence), has a statute of limitations of four (4) years.
Accidents With Underinsured Motorist Claims
If you are in an accident involving an automobile, but you need to sue your own automobile insurance for uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) benefits, that portion of the claim/lawsuit is technically a breach of contract action, so a 5-year statute of limitations applies to those. Florida Stat. §95.11(2)(b).
Some cases of action must be brought within 2 years. This is the case for wrongful death claims brought by a decedent’s family members and/or legal heirs, as well as professional malpractice as well as actions to collect unpaid wages or overtime, libel or slander.
Some cases of action must be brought right away, because you only have a year to bring them. For instance, forcing someone to perform under a contract, to enforce a lien on property for labor or services, action for prisoners, or intentional abuse.
Cases of action for sexual abuse, when the victim is under 16, can be brought at any time.
Don’t Wait Weeks or Months Before Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
We have refused to take claims which are too close to the statute of limitations, due to tight deadlines. If something goes wrong, lawyers do not want to be responsible for missing an important deadline.
Other Types of Claims
The statute of limitations in Florida differs for other types of injury claims, including injuries arising from medical malpractice and/or injuries resulting from contact with/exposure to phenoxy herbicides. See Fla. Stats. §95.11(4)(a), (b), and (f). For these types of claims, an individual has just two (2) years to commence an action (aka file a lawsuit).
Why Does It Matter?
Once the time period prescribed under a claim’s statute of limitations has passed, generally speaking, that claim is usually no longer legally enforceable by the filing of a lawsuit, so there is typically no point in making the claim. There are certain exceptions to this rule that may allow for additional time, including but not limited to situations where the individual to be sued goes absent from the state, uses a false name unknown to the claimant, and/or conceals himself/herself/thyself so that he/she/they cannot be served with process, but these are rare. See Fla. Stats. §95.051(1).
For example, if John Doe is injured in a car accident on June 28, 2021, John will have four (4) years to file a lawsuit against the individual(s) who caused the accident and (5) years to file the claim with his own UM (underinsured motorist) coverage on his car insurance. If he waits past that time to make the claim it will get denied automatically and there is probably nothing he or his lawyers can do about it. On the other hand, if John Doe is involved in a car accident on June 28, 2021 and passes away as a result, John Doe’s family members and/or legal heirs will have just two years, or until June 28, 2023, to file a lawsuit based on his wrongful death.
In another example, let’s say John Doe is involved in a bad car accident on June 28, 2021, during which he injures his left leg. John is rushed from the scene to the ER by paramedics and is immediately taken in for emergency surgery. Instead of performing surgery on John Doe’s left leg, the doctor amputates John’s right leg, which was otherwise healthy and uninjured. If John Doe wishes to pursue a claim of professional medical malpractice against the doctor, he will have just two (2) years, or until June 28, 2023, to do so.
There are some exceptions that not all attorneys know. For instance, Mr. Doe’s claim against the person who caused his car crash in the above example can often make a claim in that case for the medical malpractice against the person who caused the crash rather than the doctor.
So, what does this mean for your injury claim? First, it is wise to contact a legal professional to ensure your claim is being handled properly and that the statute of limitations for your claim is being monitored (amongst other court-imposed deadlines). Do not wait to start preparing your case for filing suit! Your attorney will need to determine which type of injury claim you wish to pursue, be it automobile negligence, products liability, premises liability, wrongful death, medical malpractice, etc. Next, Remember that generally speaking, once a statute of limitations passes, the claim is no longer legally enforceable.
Finally, it is important to be proactive — the sooner you can begin to collect the information and evidence necessary to successfully litigate your claim, the stronger your case will be.
Hire Lawyers Who Understand Your Situation
If your statute of limitations is approaching, make sure your attorney knows and is preparing to file your lawsuit. If you have hired a lawyer and they fail to file your suit in time, your claim could be lost due to the running of the statute of limitations, and you might have a cause of action against that lawyer’s insurance for the damages he/she caused. As in most cases, there is a limit within which you have to make that claim, too!
If you believe you have an injury claim and are wondering whether the statute of limitations for your claim has passed, or simply wish to initiate your injury claim, please contact Herman & Wells, P.A., at (727) 821-3195. Our lawyers specialize in personal injury and insurance disputes, and are always available for you in your time of need.