Understanding Truck Accident Claim Statute of LimitationsTruck accidents cause devastating injuries with extended recovery times. Some wounds inflicted in an accident may never heal. The window of time to take legal action for damages arising out of a truck accident, however, will end, and sooner than you may think. In this blog post, we discuss the ins-and-outs of the statute of limitations for truck accident claims in Florida. If you have sustained injuries or lost a loved one in a truck accident on Florida roads, contact a truck accident attorney today.
The Devastating Toll of Truck AccidentsSustaining an injury in a collision with a tractor-trailer rig while traveling Florida's highways can upend your life. Accidents involving large trucks can cause serious injuries, forcing victims into months of recovery, rehabilitation, and, often, extreme financial stress. You can chalk the reason truck accidents are so devastating up to a simple matter of physics. Trucks have significant mass and exert enormous force when they collide with other, smaller vehicles. To illustrate, the average private passenger car weighs under 5,000 pounds. By comparison, big rigs weigh at least 10,000 pounds, and the National Highway Safety Administration found that 80% of the large trucks involved in fatal crashes weighed over 26,000 pounds. Thus, although typical small vehicle assemblies usually include protective steel side restraint bars and other safety features, they are often no match for the sheer force of a collision with a truck. Deaths are common in these accidents. Florida's official Florida Crash Facts documented 239 large truck crash fatalities during its most recent reporting year. When passenger vehicle occupants manage to survive a large truck crash, they rarely walk away unscathed. Traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, amputations, broken bones, and other severe trauma are common. After emergency medical care and extensive hospitalization, truck crash victims often must endure therapeutic regimens and lengthy rehabilitation. The time and effort it can take to heal from a truck injury or the tragic loss of a loved one in a truck crash also typically inflict severe financial strain. Accident victims often must miss weeks or months of work. Injuries may leave them unable to resume their previous job functions or hours, leading to a cut in pay. When a family member dies in a truck accident, the loss of the family member's income make also take a heavy toll. During this time of strain and difficulty, the last thing many victims and their families want to think about is hiring a lawyer. Nevertheless, it can be important to act quickly and retain a qualified, personal injury attorney after a truck crash. The “clock is ticking,” so to speak, and the sooner you speak with experienced legal counsel, the better your chances of recovering the compensation you deserve. If you wait too long, in contrast, you may lose your right to seek damages altogether.
Florida's Statute of LimitationsA “statute of limitations” is a legal rule that imposes time limits on taking legal action. In the context of personal injury law, statute of limitations represent the window of time in which a plaintiff can file a claim for damages against a party legally responsible for causing harm. Simple as this concept sounds in the abstract, it can get somewhat complicated when put into practice. When does the “clock” start running? Are there periods of time when the clock stops and then starts again? Does the clock run against a child the same way it does for an adult? Are there different time windows for different kinds of claims? The short answer to all of these questions is…it depends. Florida's law on limitation of actions encompasses no fewer than twenty-three sections, with each of these containing numerous subsections!
The Basics of Florida Statute of LimitationsHere are the basics of Florida's statute of limitations for injuries sustained by an adult victim in a truck accident. Under Florida law, the clock starts running for an adult victim of a truck accident to file a legal claim for damages the moment the injury occurs. (Lawyers call this the moment the legal claim “accrues.”) The clock expires under Florida law four years after the date of accrual for victims who survived the accident, but just two years after the death of a victim who died from injuries sustained in the accident. A person who was judged to be incapacitated before the accident occurred, will have seven years to bring a claim.
Tolling and Statute of LimitationsSometimes, however, the clock does not begin to run, or it stops running for a period of time. Florida law contains provisions for this “tolling” of the statute of limitations. While the rules on tolling can become very complex, here are some of the more straightforward applications of Florida's “tolling” principles:
- During any time the person to be sued is absent from the state and cannot be served with process sufficient to confer jurisdiction, the clock will not run.
- During any time the person to be sued is using a false name such that service of process on that person is impossible, the clock will not run.
- During any time an arbitration proceeding pertaining to a dispute that relates to the action is pending, the clock will not run.
Children and the Statute of LimitationsWhen a minor sustains injuries in a truck accident, the statute of limitations can vary depending on the whether the minor has someone available to act on his or her behalf. When a minor has parents or guardians entitled to act on their behalf without any conflict of interest, the statute of limitations for the minor's suit is the same as an adult's. If the minor does not have a conflict-free parent or guardian to speak for her, then the statute of limitations will be tolled, but a claim must still be filed within seven years, under Florida law. In rare instances, a court may appoint a guardian ad litem for a child to ensure the child's rights can be asserted.
Claims Against a Government EntityUnder Florida law, a claim against a government entity for damages arising out of a truck accident caused by the entity's negligence is subject to a two-part statute of limitation. In addition to complying with the generally-applicable statute of limitations, a truck accident victim who seeks to sue a government entity must also present a claim to the entity directly within three years of the accrual of the action (or two years in a case of wrongful death). Denial of the claim by the government entity, either by express action or by the agency failing to act on the claim within six months, is a requirement of maintaining a legal action in court against the government entity, and must in all events occur before the sooner of settlement, the end of discovery, or a trial.
Statute of Limitations MisconceptionsBecause of the sometimes-complicated application of rules about the statute of limitations, some misconceptions can arise about time limits in legal proceedings. Here are a few of the more common ones.
The Statute of Limitations Does Not Limit the Total Duration of a CaseClients sometimes think the statute of limitations applicable to their case represents the total amount of a time a case can last. This is a misconception. The statute of limitations only serves as the time window for starting a legal action. Once a legal action against a party begins, the limitations period generally does not come into play again. The duration of legal action from that point forward will depend on a wide variety of factors, including how busy the court system is, how much evidence there is to collect, how many parties and legal claims are involved, and how willing and able the parties are to settle. At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we have had cases last just a few months and others last several years.
There Can Be Multiple Statute of Limitations Applicable to a Single CaseClients also sometimes believe their claim can have only a single statute of limitations. That may be true if there is only one plaintiff, one defendant, and one legal claim in a case, but when multiple parties and claims are involved, multiple statute of limitation may also come into play. An experienced personal injury lawyer can be essential to sorting out the different potential statute of limitation that may apply to any particular matter.
There's Usually No Fixing a Missed Statute of LimitationsEvery once in a while, a client comes to us realizing the time has just expired on a claim. The client wants to know, can we “fix” the statute of limitations problem in a case in order to revive a claim? Almost always, the answer is “no.” The expiration of a statute of limitations period means a claim is, for all intents and purposes, “dead.” That is why it is so important for truck accident victims to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible after an accident.
Take Immediate Action to Avoid Statute of Limitations IssuesSpeaking of misconceptions, a seriously injured truck accident victim may hear that the statute of limitations on a potential claim is four years away and think there's no need to take immediate action. That's an understandable reaction, but it's incorrect. During the early post-accident stages, truck accident victims can, and should, take steps to protect their legal rights to compensation. Failing to take these actions could seriously jeopardize their potential claims for damages, for the simple reason that as time passes, memories fade, evidence gets lost, and people move on. As soon as practicable, truck accident victims should seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney who can then:
- Identify all potential defendants. The sooner an attorney can identify who may have a legal liability to a truck accident client, the better the chances of the client recovering compensation. Potential defendants in truck accident cases often include truck drivers, commercial trucking companies, third-party shippers who loaded cargo into the truck's trailer, municipal road agencies, and even manufacturers of trucks and truck parts.
- Identify witnesses. Witnesses to a truck accident may prove critical in proving liability against any of the above defendants. The sooner an attorney can find them, contact them, and ensure a line a communication stays open with them no matter where they live or work, the better the chances of proving a claim.
- Preserve evidence. Truck accidents often create an awful mess that needs to be cleaned up right away to keep highways open and safe. Unfortunately, messy accident scenes and damaged vehicles also constitute evidence of liability that could be lost forever if not adequately photographed, documented, and physically preserved. An attorney can help ensure evidence crucial to your case gets collected and preserved.
- Place responsible parties and their insurers on notice. Depending upon the circumstances of a truck accident, victims may need to put parties with potential liability on notice to “preserve” their legal claim. Even when this legal obligation doesn't exist, there are practical reasons why informing a potential defendant and the defendant's insurance company of potential legal claims makes sense, including ensuring the defendants establish a reserve against a potential damages award, that they preserve evidence, and that they take a potential claim seriously.