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Understanding the Florida Statute of Limitations and Your Personal Injury Case

The statute of limitations is a law that requires people with legal claims to file them by a certain deadline. Every state has its own statute of limitations. Exceptions sometimes apply in unusual cases. But in general, a court of law will not hear your case if you file your lawsuit too late.

Think of the statute of limitations as a countdown. Typically, the countdown begins on the date of your injury. If you let it count down to zero, time is up, and your claim is dead. Don’t it happen.

Why Do States Impose Statutes of Limitations?

The Florida legislature has sound reasons for maintaining its statutes of limitations, including the following:

  • To prevent the court system from overloading with lawsuits.
  • To encourage injured claimants to file their claims quickly.
  • To avoid trying cases based on stale evidence (fading witness memories, for example). Personal injury claims should rely on the best available evidence.
  • To prevent a claimant from abusing the tort law system by litigating an old case.

Nevertheless, Florida’s four-year deadline for negligence claims is one of the nation’s longest

Effect on Settlement Negotiations

Even if you miss the statute of limitations deadline and the court dismisses your lawsuit, you can still pursue a private settlement, right? Not likely. Once you lose the ability to file a lawsuit, you lose the ability to force the opposing party to pay. That leaves you with zero bargaining power and a worthless claim. 

Beware–insurance adjusters sometimes try to lull claimants into forgetting the statute of limitations deadline by using numerous minor delays to chip away at the time remaining until the deadline.

How Long Do I Have To File a Lawsuit?

The general deadline to file a lawsuit based on negligence (carelessness) is four years after the date of your injury. Several exceptions exist, however:

  • In a wrongful death claim, the estate representative has two years from the date of the victim’s death to file a lawsuit. Note that it is the date of the victim’s death, not the date of the injury, that triggers the statute of limitations countdown.
  • In medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, and assault and battery cases, you have two years from the date of the injury. 
  • If a defective product injures you, the statute of limitations deadline is two or four years after your injury, depending on the type of case. 

The statute of limitations deadline can complicate your case if your claim is based on a continuing course of conduct (such as nursing home abuse) rather than a single incident.

Filing a Claim Against the Government

The Florida Tort Claims Act imposes additional barriers on claimants suing the state or local government. One of the main reasons for this barrier is that when you sue the government for monetary damages, you are essentially suing all Florida taxpayers (including yourself if you pay taxes in Florida) because your compensation will come out of government funds.

Government Lawsuit Procedure and Deadlines

You must first file a notice with the appropriate government department if you have a claim against a Florida state or local government agency. After you file the notice, the government will have 180 days to investigate and respond. You cannot file a lawsuit until the investigation is complete. 

If the government denies your claim in writing, or if 180 days pass with no response, and if no more than three years have elapsed since your injury, you can file a lawsuit. The deadline is two years after the victim’s death for a wrongful death claim. Prison inmates have one year to file written notice and three years to file a lawsuit.

The Discovery Rule for Medical Malpractice

If you did not discover a medical malpractice injury immediately (the surgeon left medical instruments inside your body, for example), you have up to two more years to file a lawsuit. If you discovered the injury six months after it happened, you would have six more months to file a lawsuit or two and a half years from the date of the incident. 

However, your delay in discovery must be reasonable. If you discovered your injury nine months after it happened, but you should have discovered it four months after it happened, your extension will only last four months. 

“Tolling” the Statute of Limitations Deadline

“Tolling” the statute of limitations deadline means stopping the countdown temporarily. Florida will toll the statute of limitations deadline under the following circumstances:

  • The victim is under 18 years old. The statute of limitations countdown will not start until the victim’s 18th birthday. Nevertheless, the statute of limitations deadline expires seven years after the accident, no matter what the victim’s age.
  • The victim is mentally incapacitated. The countdown will resume when the victim regains competence. Regardless of whether the victim ever regains competence, the statute of limitations deadline expires seven years after the accident. 
  • The defendant left the state before the victim filed the lawsuit. The countdown will resume when the victim returns to Florida.
  • The defendant is hiding to avoid facing the lawsuit. The countdown will resume when authorities locate the defendant.

The issue of the applicable statute of limitations deadline for cases involving minors or mentally incompetent victims is particularly complicated. These cases definitely require the intervention of a skilled personal injury lawyer.

Beating the Statute of Limitations Deadline: What Do You Have To Do To File a Lawsuit?

Even if you seek a private settlement, you might have no choice but to file a lawsuit to beat the statute of limitations deadline. You needn’t worry that you are painting yourself into a corner by doing so. You can still settle your claim any time before trial or even during a trial. 

Following are the steps in the process of filing a lawsuit.

  • Filing a formal complaint with the court. The complaint is a complex legal document your lawyer should write for you. Any mistake in a complaint will likely result in negative consequences.
  • Paying the filing fees to the court clerk. 
  • Formally notifying the defendant of the lawsuit by having an unrelated third party personally deliver a summons and a copy of your complaint to the defendant. This notification procedure is known as “service of process.” 

Once you file a lawsuit, you have beaten the statute of limitations deadline. It doesn’t matter how long it takes your case to resolve—one matter you won’t have to worry about anymore is the statute of limitations deadline.

Seek the Advice of an Experienced Miami Personal Injury Lawyer

Don’t try to resolve confusion about the statute of limitations deadline on your own, and don’t wait until the last minute to seek legal assistance. The consequences of getting it wrong could be losing 100% of the value of your claim. If you have any doubts, contact (305) 937-0191 to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at Shaked Law Personal Injury Lawyers.