The statute of Limitations and Your Car Accident Claim
When car accidents happen, some drivers and passengers walk away with minor bumps and bruises or catastrophic, while others suffer life-changing injuries with fatalities. Before the end of 2018, more than 360,000 traffic crashes have occurred on Florida roads, resulting in well over 200,000 injuries and more than 2,600 fatalities. If you have been injured in a car accident or a family member has lost their life in an accident, you might be eligible to recover damages if the accident was caused by another party’s carelessness.
Don’t wait to find out about your rights to compensation. Florida, like all states, limits the amount of time you have to seek compensation from the parties who harmed you or your loved one through its “statute of limitation.”
What Is a Statute of Limitation?
A statute of limitation is a law that mandates a time limit to take legal action. Statutes of limitation exist for criminal offenses and civil actions and vary from state to state. In personal injury cases like car accident claims, a statute of limitation dictates the amount of time that a victim who sustained an injury has to sue for damages. When that time runs out, victims are barred from filing a claim to recover losses related to an injury. Florida has several statutes of limitation for different types of cases, including car accident claims.
Florida Statutes of Limitation for Car Accidents
The Florida statutes of limitation applicable to car accident cases vary based on who is being sued and whether or not the crash resulted in death.
- Car accident injury claims. Under Florida law, plaintiffs who want to take legal action based on negligence, a component in most personal injury cases, must file a lawsuit within four years of the date of the car accident. A court will refuse to hear an injury case after four years, unless there are extraordinary circumstances that warrant an exception.
- Wrongful death car accident claims. When a loved one dies in a motor vehicle accident or from injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident, family members or a personal representative of the deceased may file a wrongful death claim against the allegedly liable party. Eligible family members must take action quickly because the statute of limitation for wrongful death lawsuits under Florida law is two years after the passing of a loved one.
- Product liability injury claims. Sometimes car accidents are caused by defective cars or defective car parts like tires or brake pads. In these situations, personal injury attorneys may seek compensation from the manufacturer via a product liability lawsuit. When a defect results in injury, a four-year statute of limitation applies. However, in the event a defective car or car part results in death, the two-year statute of limitation for wrongful death suits applies.
- Car accident injury claims against the government. In cases where a driver in a city, county, or state vehicle causes an accident, or poorly maintained roads lead to a car accident, victims may sue the government in a personal injury lawsuit. Under Florida law, victims have three years from the date of the accident to take legal action against a government entity.
- Property damage claims. Those who want to sue for property damage from a car accident including vehicle damage or loss have the same four-year statute of limitation as those who have been injured in a car accident.
Extensions to Statutes of Limitation in Florida Car Accident Cases
Florida law clearly outlines the timelines for legal action when a victim wants to sue after a car accident, but there are exceptions to these deadlines. The following are some of the most common exceptions that might give the court a reason to extend the statute of limitation for a particular car accident case:
Availability of the Defendant in a Car Accident Claim
Filing a civil suit against another party requires serving papers on the defendant. If the defendant leaves Florida after the date of injury and before the filing of a lawsuit, the court will stop the clock until the defendant returns to the state or can be served in an appropriate manner outside of the state. Similarly, if the defendant evades a court summons by hiding or “going underground,” the court will stop the statute of limitation clock.
False Representation in a Car Accident Claim
If a defendant uses a false identity to avoid a lawsuit, the court will extend the statute of limitation until relevant parties locate the defendant and his true identity.
Car Accident Catastrophic Injuries
If the victim of a car accident suffered severe or catastrophic injuries that prevent filing a claim, Florida law gives victims seven years from the date of the accident to take legal action. A victim who suffered serious burns and needs long-term hospitalization for recovery or a victim in a coma after an accident are examples of situations that might warrant this kind of exception.
Delayed Discovery and a Statute of Limitations
The application of the delayed discovery rule is another reason that the court might extend a statute of limitation; this means the statute of limitation clock doesn’t start until the date that a victim discovers an injury or the date in which a reasonable person should have discovered an injury. Delayed discovery is often relevant in medical malpractice cases and product liability cases, but not as much in car accident cases; however, car accident injuries that don’t present symptoms right away might delay the statute of limitation clock.
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a common example of a car accident injury where delayed discovery might be relevant. Florida uses this rule to make sure victims have enough time to get their claim filed after discovering an injury. Some injuries, like TBIs, don’t show symptoms for weeks or months. A mild TBI or a concussion may heal quickly, but the extent of the injury might be greater and the victim might not discover this for some time.
Injured Dependents of a Car Accident Claim
Mentally incompetent persons and children who are dependent on guardians, parents, or caregivers need someone to file a car accident injury lawsuit on their behalf. Delayed discovery often applies in these cases, but the court might also extend, or ‘toll,’ a statute of limitation for a minor who was under 18 and no one filed a suit for them. Sometimes courts start the statute of limitation clock for an injured minor when they turn 18. Similarly, courts sometimes extend the statute of limitation for an injured person who is mentally incompetent until someone files a claim on their behalf.
Statutes of Repose in Florida Car Accident Cases
A statute of repose is another type of law that places time limits on personal injury cases, but they tend to favor the defendant by putting an absolute limit on taking legal action. A statute of repose might start the clock prior to the injury. Generally speaking, statutes of repose don’t apply to car accident claims in Florida, unless the car accident claim is also a products liability claim. Defective product claims in Florida are subject to both statutes of limitation and statutes of repose.
Under Florida law, a victim may not initiate legal action for products liability, including wrongful death, to recover damages caused by a product that has an expected useful life of 10 years or less, if the injury was caused more than 12 years after delivery of a product to its first purchaser. For example, if a 13-year old tire blew out and caused an accident, an injured party cannot sue even if the tire was defective. The statute of repose goes on to state that the first purchaser must not have been selling or leasing the product to use it as a component part. This prevents a car manufacturer from suing a car parts company who made a defective part.
What if the Statute of Limitation Runs out on My Car Accident Claim?
If you try to file a personal injury lawsuit for your car accident claim after the statute of limitation window has closed, the defense will move to dismiss the case based on your late filing. One of the aforementioned exceptions may offer good cause for the court to hear your case, but many times the court won’t hear the case. Once the court dismisses your case, you are barred from seeking damages for your injuries regardless of fault, negligence, or the strength of your claim. Hiring an experienced car accident attorney soon after your accident is the best way to make sure that you don’t run into timing issues and miss out on recovering compensation that you deserve.
Florida Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance Coverage
Drivers who have a valid Florida license plate must carry a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) and $10,000 of property damage liability (PDL). Florida is a no-fault insurance state, which means that when a car accident occurs, injured parties file claims under their own insurance policies before suing the other driver. Once the policy limits are met or exceeded, a car accident injury victim may file a personal injury suit. Your trusted attorney will guide you through these processes and advise you when or if you need to escalate your insurance claim to a lawsuit while being mindful of the statute of limitation that applies to your particular car accident claim.
Immediate Steps After a Car Accident in Florida
If you have been in a car accident in Florida, take the following steps to maximize your odds of recovering damages for your injury:
- Seek medical attention. Your health and safety and the health and safety of anyone involved in car crash remain top priority. If you weren’t immediately hospitalized or taken to the emergency department, you need to get checked out by your doctor as soon as possible. A strong car accident claim requires proof that your injuries were a result of the car accident and not sustained elsewhere. Medical documentation provides leverage for negotiating a settlement and proof of injuries for the court. Some injuries aren’t immediately apparent, so be mindful of symptoms in the days and weeks after your accident. Be aware that you must seek prompt medical attention to obtain benefits under your own PIP insurance policy.
- Keep records of economic loss. After your car accident you might have to miss work, so you need to provide proof of loss of income. Additionally, you might be amassing medical bills and other expenses such as repairs on your vehicle and travel to and from doctor visits. Document spending related to your accident and injury and keep all of your receipts and bills to share with your attorney.
- Don’t communicate with the other party’s insurance company. In severe accidents that obviously exceed PIP limits and reveal clear negligence, the other driver’s insurance company might contact you and offer you a settlement. Insurance companies train adjusters to try to get you to make statements that you share fault in the accident. A settlement offer might sound like a lot of money, but it is often much less than you deserve and speaking to the company might reduce the value of your claim. Let an experienced attorney handle all negotiations with insurance companies and other relevant parties while you focus on recovering from your injuries.
- Don’t talk about your case with friends or family. Insurance companies who are investigating your car accident will talk to those around you to gather evidence that helps them avoid paying out a claim. Not sharing details with friends and family protects them from saying something that might be twisted against you later on. Additionally, it’s not in your best interest to post any details of your accident on social media or any personal posts that might cause an insurance carrier to argue that your injuries aren’t severe.
Contact an Attorney Before The Statute of Limitation Runs Out on Your Car Accident Claim
Many car accidents only result in minor injuries, or no injuries at all, and don’t require filing a car accident injury lawsuit. Yet when you or a loved one sustains a severe injury or loses a life in a car accident, it can be important to seek the advice of an experienced car accident attorney right away to ensure you don’t miss the deadline for filing a claim. Contact the skilled car accident attorneys at Dolman Law Group in St. Petersburg at (727) 222-6922 for a free consultation to discuss the details of your accident.
Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712