Understanding the Statute of Limitations and Your Personal Injury Case
If you or someone you love was injured in an accident in Florida, your first thought is not that you want to research the law and find out the statute of limitations. You are more concerned with getting better and, unfortunately, usually worrying about how to pay your medical bills.
But, the statute of limitations is important. It helps to know what it means and how it can affect your personal injury case.
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What Is a Statute of Limitations?
First, a statute is a formal law that has been enacted by the Florida legislature and signed into law by the Governor. The Florida Statutes are a collection of all the current laws in Florida that govern everything from criminal punishment to the use of recyclable materials in construction (yes, there is a law for that).
Every state has a law that sets a deadline for when you must file a lawsuit in certain circumstances in order to exercise your right to pursue relief under the law. Such a law is called a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations varies from state to state and by type of lawsuit.
How Does the Statute of Limitations Apply to My Personal Injury Case?
The most important thing to remember about the statute of limitations is that it is a hard and fast deadline. If you don’t file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, you won’t be able to recover any compensation for your injuries. That’s true even if the defendant is completely at fault for all of your injuries. You have a limited time to act.
The statute of limitations isn’t the same in all personal injury cases. It’s important to consult a reputable personal injury lawyer early in the process, so you don’t risk missing your deadline.
Most accidents are preventable – they’re usually caused by someone’s carelessness. So, most personal injury cases are based on negligence (a legal theory that holds people liable for causing harm when they fail to exercise due care).
In most cases, the statute of limitations for lawsuits based on negligence in Florida is four years. That means you’ll have to initiate your court action within four years of the event that caused your injury.
Negligence cases can cover a wide range of personal injury cases, including:
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Slip and fall accidents and other premises liability claims
- Product liability
- Boating accidents
- And much more
Even if your personal injury case falls into another category, it may be based on a theory of negligence. So not even all negligence cases will have the same statute of limitations. That’s one reason this area of the law is so complex.
Medical malpractice is usually based on a theory of negligence, but it’s a special category. It has its own specific deadlines for filing a lawsuit. The statute of limitations in most medical malpractice cases in Florida is two years from the medical event causing your injury.
What if you didn’t realize you were injured until later? It wouldn’t be fair to take time away from your right to file a lawsuit before you knew anything was wrong. In that case, you have two years from the time you discovered or reasonably should have discovered, your injury.
This can happen in the case of a retained surgical body (RSB). A classic RSB example is a patient who suffers an infection from a sponge left behind after a surgical procedure. The patient gets home and is feeling fine. The patient may go weeks, months, or even years before having any symptoms. One day, they start having abdominal pain and eventually go to the hospital. Upon examination or through another surgical procedure, the sponge is discovered.
The date that starts the two-year clock for the statute of limitations in the above example would not be the original surgery date. What does start the clock would probably be the subject of some litigation – the plaintiff’s attorney might argue that the plaintiff didn’t know until the sponge was discovered. The medical provider’s insurance company might argue that the plaintiff should have known something was wrong at the first sign of abdominal discomfort.
You have an additional two years from when you discovered the injury, but it can’t extend more than four years from the original procedure.
If that’s not complicated enough, there are additional exceptions if the injured party is a child eight years of age or under or if the injury wasn’t discovered due to fraud.
However, if someone other than your employer was responsible for your workplace accident, you might be able to file a third-party lawsuit to recover additional damages. That means you’ll have to abide by the statute of limitations for a regular personal injury case (four years). But you don’t want to miss your workers’ comp benefits, so you have to meet any deadlines associated with that process as well.
Government Entity Liability
Generally, government entities have sovereign immunity, which means they cannot be sued. However, Florida government entities have waived their sovereign immunity for liability in tort actions under certain circumstances.
There are many instances where a state, city, or county government might be responsible for your injury – a negligently maintained road, a broken stoplight, or a poorly designed intersection. If you’re suing a government entity, you have to file your lawsuit within three years. And there are specific notice requirements that must be met.
If someone you love was fatally wounded in an accident, you have two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Considering everything that is going on after losing a family member, it is good to call an attorney as soon as you feel up to it.
Your lawyer can get started on securing financial compensation for you and your family while you take time to grieve and concentrate on healing. It can really put your mind at ease to know that someone is working on your behalf to get justice for your loved one and to get a financial award that can help support you in the future.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations?
There are circumstances that could suspend the statute of limitations. There is a concept called “tolling the statute,” which means that you suspend counting down the deadline while certain circumstances exist.
In Florida, the statute may be tolled if:
- The injured victim is a minor
- The injured victim is incapacitated
- The defendant is not in the state
- The defendant is trying to hide or avoid being sued
The other main exception, discussed in detail above, is often referred to as the “discovery rule.” You might have additional time if you didn’t immediately discover the injury.
There could be other exceptions depending on the circumstances of your case. Talking to an experienced personal injury lawyer early in the process is always a good idea and gives you the best opportunity to recover the maximum amount of compensation possible.