How Long After an Accident Can You File a Personal Injury Claim

August 26, 2022 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
How Long After an Accident Can You File a Personal Injury Claim

Florida Personal Injury Claim Statute of Limitations

When you're injured because of someone else's negligence, healing should be your first priority. Indeed, when you're recovering from serious injuries, it's usually difficult to think about anything else. While your recovery is important, you must also consider what will happen as your life gets back to normal. If you plan to file a personal injury claim in the future, you should begin protecting your legal rights immediately after your accident. You should make important decisions and take the appropriate steps right now to set yourself up for success down the road. So, how long after an accident do you have to file a personal injury claim? You don't have to make your claim immediately, but the countdown begins the moment your accident occurs. When you consult a personal injury attorney as soon as possible, you learn more about your legal options and obtain the assistance you need. Speak with the compassionate and experienced attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA to discuss your options today.

The Statute of Limitations Is Your Official Deadline

When you sustain an injury, you have a limited amount of time to file a legal claim against the responsible parties. Florida law establishes the statute of limitations that controls how long you have to make your injury claim. If your statute of limitations is four years, for example, the time period begins when you have your accident and expires four years after your accident anniversary. If you allow this deadline to pass without taking action, you generally lose your right to recover damages. That means you should strive to settle your claim with the responsible parties and their insurers, or file your lawsuit before it's too late.

Different Statutes of Limitations for Florida Personal Injury Cases

When your injury involves negligence, such as in an auto accident or a slip and fall occurrence, you generally have four years from your injury date to either settle or sue in Florida. For a medical malpractice victim, the statute of limitations is two years. These are the basic deadlines for injury claims, but it's far more complicated than that. Exceptions and conditions can modify the basic statute of limitations. Other circumstances stay the expiration. A stay is a condition or circumstance that prevents the statute of limitations from running for a period designated by Florida law. Statute of limitations modifications and exceptions occur when:
  • A plaintiff or defendant is in another state.
  • A plaintiff or defendant is incapacitated or ruled incapacitated by a court.
  • A potential defendant avoids service through fraudulent means.
  • A defendant files bankruptcy.
  • The cause of certain injuries isn't determined until years later.
  • A defendant committed an intentional tort based on abuse.
  • The injured individual is a minor under age 18.
  • An accident causes a wrongful death.
When the injured plaintiff is a minor, the deadlines become even more complicated. A child's statute of limitations is a maximum of 7 years or until the child turns 18. A child isn't considered competent enough to settle his or her own lawsuit. A parent, court-appointed guardian, or guardian ad litem can approve an offer and settle a minor's case. A court must approve a minor's claim when the child is seriously injured, the settlement is $15,000 or more, or the child's legal position creates a conflict of interest with the parents. The above modifications also apply to a minor's injury claim.

You Shouldn't Wait to Take Action After a Personal Injury

In a perfect world, the person who causes your injury contacts their liability carrier as soon as possible. The insurance company quickly investigates the accident and assesses liability. It will likely review the medical records, evaluate your injuries, and reserve its claim file anticipating a future payment. When you're ready to settle, a claim representative negotiates a fair settlement. Sadly, this perfect world scenario rarely occurs. The process sometimes stalls or comes to a complete stop when you have no one looking out for your legal interests.

Don't Have High Expectations About a Voluntary Settlement

Whether you're hurt in a car accident, a premises accident, or a product mishap, don't expect the person or entity that caused your accident to step up and accept responsibility. When a negligent party refuses to acknowledge fault, it's sometimes based on an honest belief that he or she did nothing to harm you. In many cases, personal, financial, or other interests guide a responsible party's decisions. Consider the following:
  • Drivers with prior accidents want to avoid increased premiums and policy cancellations.
  • Hotels, restaurants, and other public venues want to avoid higher premiums, increased loss ratios, and a rush of similar claims.
  • Product designers, manufacturers, and distributors try to avoid any admission that will likely tarnish their reputation or decrease their profits.

Insurance Companies Won't Wait for You to Recover

A lot happens during the hours following a serious accident. While you're dealing with emergency room doctors or waiting for medical care, negligent parties are often deciding how best to spin the facts in their favor. Truck drivers sometimes accuse injured individuals of speeding. Premises owners often work to eliminate a defect before an investigator captures it in a photo. Product manufacturers seek to recover the defective product, often for destructive testing that renders it useless as evidence. When responsible parties report claims to their insurance companies, these reports often include sanitized versions of the facts. For example: “I collided with the other vehicle,” or “she fell down the steps.” Unless liability issues are crystal clear, insurance companies initiate their investigations assuming that liability is questionable. By the time you're on the road to recovery, any liability insurer involved in your case will have already decided whether or not it will pay your claim.

Insurance Companies Won't Tell You When Your Time Is Expiring

When your statute of limitations is about to expire, an insurance company may or may not inform you. Both doing so and not doing so potentially cause ethical and/or legal problems. If an insurer advises you that your statute of limitations is about to expire, the information is considered legal advice or acting in the capacity of an attorney. Under some circumstances, not advising you that you're about to miss your statute of limitations is interpreted as bad faith.

Insurance Company Approaches to the Statute of Limitations

Insurance Company Not Helpful Insurance claim representatives walk a thin line when considering your statute of limitations. They usually take the position that minimizes the danger of encountering legal and ethical difficulties. If a claim representative is attempting to negotiate a settlement, they often shut the process down a month or two before the statute runs. They often make one last effort by extending a final offer. If they receive no response, they feel comfortable withdrawing from active communication. If you don't accept the offer or you don't make a timely counter-offer, the insurer makes the reasonable assumption that you have rejected its offer. Having done its part, it then leaves it up to you to reopen the conversation. If an insurance carrier investigates a case, denies liability, and doesn't intend to make additional contact, it often closes its file. Insurance companies don't generally feel obligated to track you down and insist that you respond or file a suit. When an insurer closes a liability claim after denying liability, the case file often lies dormant until you or someone else files a lawsuit. When the statute of limitations runs, and the company has received no lawsuit, it considers the file permanently closed.

What About Insurance Company Bad Faith?

Insurers understand that they must meet certain standards if they wish to do business in Florida. They must make timely contact, investigate their liability claims properly, and negotiate fairly. They recognize the dangers of late-stage negotiations with an unrepresented client, so they avoid that. Most insurance companies follow standards that help them avoid acts of bad faith or acts with the appearance of bad faith. Like every insurer in the United States, Florida insurance companies follow rules that are compatible with the National Association of Insurance Commissioner's model “Unfair Claim Settlement Practices Act.” Florida law mirrors these standards. Most of the provisions explain a carrier's duty to its insured, but several apply specifically to potential beneficiaries of an insured's policy. Here are a few acts that are designated as unfair.
  • Failing to implement proper investigative standards
  • Denying claims without a reasonable Investigation
  • Failure to provide a timely response to communications
  • Material misrepresentations about coverage
  • Not settling a claim promptly when liability becomes clear

These Coverages Pay Your Medical Bills Without Requiring a Settlement Release

If you have medical bills, you shouldn't wait to settle your claim before you pay them. Unpaid medical bills often cause pressure that motivates you to settle before you're ready. To medical providers, you are the person responsible for the bills you incur. If you don't pay, they often report your delays to credit bureaus and turn them over to collection agencies. Depending on your accident, you may have access to benefits that pay your medical bills without requiring you to settle your claim. Consider the following types of coverage that may apply in your situation:
  • Personal injury protection benefits: When you're injured in a Florida accident, your own auto insurance carrier pays benefits under your PIP (no-fault) coverage. The $10,000 per accident benefit pays for replacement services, 60 percent of your lost wages, and 80 percent of your medical bills.
  • Health insurance: Health insurance pays for medical bills due to any type of sickness or accident. PIP benefits are primary when you're injured in an auto accident. Once your medical bills exceed your $10,000 limit, your health insurance carrier pays. Some health insurance policies have a subrogation provision. If someone else causes your injuries, the insurance company retains a right to recover what it paid if you settle or receive a judgment from a responsible party.
  • Premises medical payments: If you're injured on someone else's property, that individual may have Medical Payments Coverage that will pay some of your bills. It's a minimal limit coverage that's often included in business owners and homeowners package policies. It's essentially a premises no-fault coverage. It pays your medical bills whether or not you prove the owner is at fault.

You Decide When It's Time to Settle Your Personal Injury Claim

You decide when and if you want to settle your claim. If you're seriously or catastrophically injured, you will likely choose to wait until you've recovered as much as possible. If an insurance company representative or anyone else pressures you to settle before you're ready, you have a right to refuse. While you're waiting for the right time to settle your claim, keep in mind:
  • Your statute of limitations: You can take your time settling your claim as long as you settle your claim or file a lawsuit before your statute of limitations runs.
  • You must qualify to file an auto liability claim: If you're injured in a vehicle accident, you or your family may only file a claim against negligent parties if your injuries meet one of the qualifying conditions defined in the PIP statute. These include a significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function, permanent injury, significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement, or death.
  • Don't rush your recovery: When you return to your normal activities too quickly, it may aggravate your injuries. It also devalues your claim if you're temporarily disabled but working like you're fully recovered.
  • Don't cancel your doctor visits: Constant medical care is often overwhelming, but keep all of your appointments. When you skip your appointments, it comes back to haunt you when you're ready to settle. The liability insurance company evaluating your injuries and disabilities will see your reluctance to keep your doctor appointments as an indication that your injury isn't as severe as you claim.
  • Fill your prescriptions: Doctors prescribe pain medication to minimize your discomfort. You don't have to take every pill as scheduled, but if you do fill your prescriptions, you'll have the medication in case you need it. If you don't fill your prescription, the liability insurance company will see it as a measure of your pain.
  • Stay away from social media: An insurance investigator will view your activities in light of your claimed disabilities. An innocent dance photo or video often gives the investigator a reason to diminish your claim's value

Consult a Personal Injury Lawyer at Dolman Law Group Today

Car Accident Lawyer Airbag Deployment
Matthew Dolman, Personal Injury Accident Lawyer
When you're seriously injured, you take on a lot of additional responsibilities. A personal injury attorney eases your burden by handling the legal issues while you focus on your recovery. During the early days following your accident, lawyers do what's necessary to protect your legal rights. They determine who is legally liable, review evidence, and evaluate your injury. Attorneys deal with insurance companies so you don't have to. When you're ready to settle your claim, your attorney can negotiate on your behalf. When you consult an attorney, you don't have to make a commitment to move forward with your case right there and then. During your visit, you tell the lawyer your version of the events and discuss your potential legal options. When you schedule a meeting with a personal injury attorney, your initial consultation is usually free, so don't hesitate.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 N Belcher Rd Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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