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How Long Do I Have to File a Car Accident Claim?

According to crash data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), the majority of traffic accidents each year on Florida roads don’t result in injury or fatality; in recent years, this includes a little less than 60 percent of all crashes. If you are one of the approximately 40 percent of Florida drivers who has sustained injuries and experienced loss as a result of a car accident, however, Florida law may entitle you to sue for damages, if your injuries were a result of negligence or intentional harm, your injuries were severe, and your losses exceeded the limits of your own personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policy.

However, you have limited time to file a car accident claim. Florida statute of limitations laws govern the amount of time you have to take legal action. The following information provides everything you need to know about Florida statutes of limitations in car accident cases.

If you or a loved one needs immediate legal assistance to discuss your case, contact the skilled attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), for a free consultation to learn how we can assist you.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

The term statute of limitations is the legal term referring to laws mandating time limits for plaintiffs or prosecutors to take legal action after an injury or crime occurs. Torts and criminal offenses have statutes of limitations, but they vary based on jurisdiction and the particular type of injury claim or crime. In personal injury claims like car accidents, the statute of limitations specifically refers to the amount of time you have to sue a liable party to recover losses for an accident and injury in civil court. Once the statute of limitations runs out for you to file a car accident claim, a Florida court will not hear your case and you cannot collect any damages, except in rare circumstances.

Florida Statutes of Limitations for Car Accident Claims

Florida’s legal code has several statutes of limitations that might apply to a car accident claim. The applicable time limit depends on the circumstances of the accident and who may have legal liability for your injuries or losses.

  • Car accident injury claims. Under Florida law, those who were injured in a car accident by another driver’s negligence have four years from the date of the traffic accident to file a car accident claim. It’s highly unlikely a Florida court will hear your case when the four-year statute of limitations expires.
  • Product liability injury claims. Some car accidents are a result of defective vehicles or vehicle parts. If a manufacturer’s defect causes an accident leading to injury or death, victims recover damages through a product liability lawsuit. Product liability lawsuits sometimes require different procedures based on the circumstances of a case, but the four-year statute applies unless death occurs, causing the two-year statute to apply.
  • Car accident injury claims against the government. Florida law allows only three years for injured parties to file a suit against a government agency or subdivision whose negligence led to an accident. If a pothole, sinkhole, or other feature of a poorly maintained road caused your accident and injury, this statute of limitations might apply to your case.
  • Wrongful death car accident claims. Under Florida law, surviving family members who lost a loved one as a result of a car accident might be eligible to file a wrongful death claim against a negligent party, but must do so within two years from the date of injury which resulted in death.

Stopping the Clock in Florida Car Accident Cases

Florida law is clear about statutes of limitations, but in rare instances a court might make an exception, and stop the clock or extend the statute of limitations for a particular case. Examples of situations which might cause the court to extend a statute of limitations include:

Location of the Allegedly Liable Party

If the defendant leaves the state after the car accident, you might struggle with serving a summons and other related documents out-of-state. If you petition the court with the help of a qualified car accident lawyer, it may extend the statute of limitations until the defendant returns to Florida or can otherwise be served with process out-of-state. The court will typically also stop the clock if the defendant “goes underground,” and avoids getting served court papers.

Misrepresentation

In car accidents where the defendant gives law enforcement a false identity, the court might stop the clock until the police or an investigator can locate and verify the defendant’s true identity.

Severe Injury

Severe or catastrophic injury, such as burns or a coma, might make it difficult, if not impossible, to file a car accident claim. If your lawyer can prove your physical condition prevented you or another person acting on your behalf from filing a claim, Florida law allows for a seven year extension from the date of your accident.

Delayed Discovery of Injuries

Sometimes injuries sustained in a car accident don’t immediately present symptoms, or the injured victim does not realize the extent of injuries until some time after the accident. The statute of limitations clock usually starts running on the date of injury, but under Florida law, the statute of limitations but a delay in a victim discovering the injury may “pause” that time period. Delayed discovery most often plays a role in medical malpractice or product liability cases, but it can happen in a car accident, especially when head trauma is involved.

The impact of a collision or blunt force trauma to the head from a car accident might result in a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Most TBIs are mild concussions that heal in a few weeks without any long-term effect. Serious TBIs might create lifelong issues, especially in children. It’s difficult for victims and doctors to know the extent of the injury for weeks or months.

Car Accident Victims Younger Than 18

If your teen driver has been involved in a car accident, or your child was in the car with you during an accident and sustained an injury, you might have circumstances warranting an extension of the statute of limitations. This typically occurs when an adult does not file a lawsuit on behalf of a minor; in these cases, the injured child can sue for damages when they turn 18.

Each claim is different and circumstances of the accident will factor into a court’s decision to extend the statute of limitations. Consult with an experienced attorney to find out if a statute of limitations extension applies to you or your child.

Statutes of Repose in Florida Car Accident Cases

A statute of repose is another type of law which can impact how long you have to file a car accident claim. Statutes of repose place an absolute time limit on taking legal action against a party who caused you injury. In some cases, a statute of repose might begin before the actual injury happens. Statutes of repose don’t apply to the vast majority of car accident cases in Florida; but, if your accident was a result of a defective vehicle or defective automobile part, Florida statutes of repose may apply to your product liability claim against the manufacturer.

Florida law states victims cannot pursue legal action for injuries or death when a defective product with an expected life of fewer than 10 years, or caused harm more than 12 years after the first owner bought or received the product. For example, if a 13-year old car tire blew out on a road and caused an accident, injured parties cannot sue the tire manufacturer for damages even if the tire had a known defect. Similarly, if a motor vehicle has a known recall issue that led to an accident after 12 years, you cannot seek compensation for injuries from the car manufacturer.

What if the Statute of Limitations Runs out on My Car Accident Claim?

In the vast majority of cases, if you do not take legal action before the statute of limitations runs out on your case, Florida law bars you from seeking damages regardless of fault and the strength of your claim. If you attempt to file a personal injury lawsuit after the statute of limitations ends, expect the defense to file a motion to dismiss your case because of late filing. If you qualify for one of the above exceptions, the court might decide to hear your case. Yet, it’s unlikely; Florida law allows room for these exceptions, but does not make them easy to invoke.

Working with an experienced car accident injury lawyer is the best way to ensure that you have an opportunity to hold negligent parties liable for your injury and potentially recover damages. A qualified attorney understands Florida statutes of limitations and can manage your timeline to avoid running out of time to file your car accident claim.

What Steps Should I Take After a Car Accident in Florida?

If you have been injured in a car accident in Florida, follow the guidelines below to increase your likelihood of recovering damages related to your injury:

  • Go to the doctor as soon as possible. Your personal health is the most important immediately following a car accident. You need to have a doctor check you out as soon as possible if you refused medical treatment or an ambulance ride at the scene of the accident. Prevailing in your car accident injury case requires medical documentation demonstrating your injury was a result of the accident. This helps your lawyer negotiate a better settlement for you and provides evidence for the court if you need to go to trial.
  • Keep all proof of loss related to your accident. Proving economic loss is another important factor for recovering damages. You need to keep all receipts, such as car repairs, gas receipts for traveling to and from the hospital, pay stubs showing lost wages, medical bills not paid by your mandatory PIP coverage, and anything else related to your accident and injury.
  • Don’t accept a settlement offer without talking to an attorney. Some car accidents result in extensive injuries easily meeting or exceeding insurance policy limits. When insurance companies know their policyholder is at fault, they might make an early settlement offer. These offers are meant to dangle an attractive financial carrot in front of accident victims, especially those with a stack of unpaid bills, in hopes of freeing an insurance company from liability for a larger settlement or court-awarded damages later on. Yet, they are often far less than one deserves for a severe injury. You should never accept an offer without consulting an attorney. He or she can negotiate a better settlement, but more importantly, letting a lawyer handle communications will shield you from saying anything which might reduce the value of your claim.
  • Only speak with your attorney about your car accident claim. You might want to share all the details of your accident and case with well-meaning friends and family, but this isn’t in your best interest. When insurance companies and other parties to the defense investigate your case, they might speak with those close to you. When your loved ones know the entire story, they might say something to devalue your claim. Similarly, don’t post anything about your accident, your daily life, or your case on social media, so you don’t risk an insurance company twisting one of your posts to devalue your car accident claim.

Take Legal Action Before Your Time Runs Out

If you have suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a car accident, you need a knowledgeable and trustworthy attorney to help you seek compensation for damages related to your injuries. You don’t have to fight alone. The compassionate and experienced legal team at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP, will be by your side to guide you through the legal process after a car accident. With offices across both Florida coasts, you can easily connect with us at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) or you can write to us online for a free consultation.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 451-6900

Florida Personal Injury Attorneys