How Long After a Gainesville Car Accident Can You Claim Compensation for Your Injuries?
Bill Allen | June 15, 2023 | Car Accidents
The statute of limitations sets the ultimate deadline for you to file a lawsuit over a Gainesville car accident. Other formal and informal deadlines apply as well. For the sake of your claim, it is important that you don’t miss any applicable deadline. The assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer can help ensure that you don’t.
The Florida Statute of Limitations Deadlines
A number of deadlines apply to a Florida car accident compensation claim, depending on the circumstances of your accident. Please see below for a brief explanation.
The 14-Day PIP Insurance Claim Deadline
Florida operates a “no-fault” auto insurance system. What that means is that under most circumstances, you cannot file a lawsuit against an at-fault driver who injures you in an accident.
Instead, you must make a claim under the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) policy that Florida law requires its drivers to purchase.
If you purchase the minimum amount of PIP insurance that Florida law allows, you are still covered up to $10,000. To claim PIP benefits, however, you must seek medical treatment within 14 days after the accident. If you fail to do so, you cannot claim PIP benefits. Moreover, the “no-fault” bar against filing a lawsuit against an at-fault driver will remain in place. Missing the 14-day treatment deadline will leave you with few options.
The “serious injury” exception that will allow you to file a personal injury lawsuit
If your injuries are “serious,” you can skip over the no-fault PIP system and proceed directly to either (i) file a third-party claim against the at-fault driver’s liability insurance policy or (ii) file a personal injury lawsuit in a Florida court. Florida law defines a “serious” injury specifically, however. For instance, your injuries are “serious” if they result in permanent disfigurement or loss of a limb.
Since you don’t have to file a PIP claim for a “serious” injury, you are not subject to the formal 14-day treatment deadline. Nonetheless, it is still critical that you seek prompt medical treatment for the reasons outlined below.
The Statute of Limitations Deadline To File a Lawsuit
If no exception to the statute of limitations deadline applies, you have two years to file a lawsuit over a car accident claim. The deadline used to be four years, but Florida changed it to two years in 2023. A lawsuit might not help you, however, if the defendant doesn’t carry liability insurance. Florida doesn’t require its drivers to carry liability insurance.
The statute of limitations deadline is relevant, of course, only if your injuries are “serious” enough to allow you to file a car accident lawsuit in the first place. “File a lawsuit” means (i) file a formal complaint with the appropriate court and pay the filing fee by the deadline, and (ii) have a third party notify the defendant of the lawsuit within a reasonable time after you file the complaint.
The discovery rule
If your injury was latent and you could not have discovered it immediately, the two-year statute of limitations deadline begins on the date that you discovered your injury or the date that you should have discovered it, whichever comes first.
The defendant leaves the state
The statute of limitations clock stops while the defendant is outside of Florida and doesn’t start ticking again until they return.
Minors and incapacitated people
If your injury occurred before you turned 18, the two-year statute of limitations clock doesn’t begin ticking until you turn 18. In no event, however, will you have longer than seven years after the accident to file a lawsuit.
If your injuries were so serious that they incapacitated you, or if you were already incapacitated, the statute of limitations clock doesn’t begin running until you regain capacity. There is still an ultimate deadline of seven years after the accident by which you must file a lawsuit.
A parent or guardian can file a lawsuit on behalf of a child or an incapacitated person. Special rules may apply if the defendant fraudulently concealed an injury.
Lawsuits against the government
If your lawsuit is against a government department, your timeline might be shortened, depending on whether you are suing the federal, state, or local government.
Wrongful death cases
If the victim dies from their injuries, the executor of their probate estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party. The statute of limitations deadline is still two years, but it doesn’t begin to run until the date that the victim dies rather than the date of the accident.
Why You Need To Seek Medical Treatment and File a Claim Immediately
“Seek immediate medical treatment after an accident” is advice that you will hear from any lawyer and doctor. Err on the side of caution because some injuries take time to generate symptoms. Medical evidence may be vital to the success of your claim.
The “Pre-Existing Injury” Defense
Suppose you delay medical treatment until, say, five days after the accident. The defense will likely assert a pre-existing injury defense.
The argument goes something like this: “For all we know, the plaintiff (you) could have suffered their injury during the five-day period in which they delayed medical treatment. If so, then it wasn’t the car accident that caused their injury. Consequently, we are not responsible for paying.”
The “Failure to Mitigate Damages” Defense
If you fail to seek prompt medical treatment, the defense may offer a “failure to mitigate damages” defense. Under this defense, the opposing party can argue that had you sought immediate medical treatment, your injuries wouldn’t have turned out to be as serious as they are.
In other words, your failure to seek prompt medical treatment worsened your injuries, and the defendant should not have to pay for the extent to which you worsened your own injuries. This defense, if successful, might not completely relieve the defendant of liability, but it will relieve the defendant of liability of that portion of your damages that you could have avoided.
Deterioration of Evidence
Evidence tends to deteriorate over time. On one extreme, CCTV footage of an accident might be erased within 24 hours. On the other extreme, a witness’s memory might fade, or they might move out of town. Other physical evidence can deteriorate over time as well. Your best bet is to begin preparing your claim as soon as possible after the accident.
Schedule a Free Initial Consultation With an Experienced Gainesville Car Accident Lawyer
It shouldn’t cost you any money to consult with an experienced Gainesville car accident lawyer. As a matter of fact, most personal injury lawyers represent their clients for free unless they achieve a successful result. A “successful result” means a courtroom verdict or a private settlement. Either way, you won’t have to pay legal fees until and unless you win. You are likely to pocket more money if you hire a lawyer, even after deducting your legal fees.
Contact Our Gainesville Car Accident Law Firm in North Central Florida
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