The statute of limitations in Florida usually gives car accident victims two years to file lawsuits. Until very recently, victims had four years to file a lawsuit, but a recent change has reduced it to two years. The time limit may be paused or tolled if the plaintiff was under the age of 18 when the accident occurred, is incapacitated, or the defendant flees or is otherwise unavailable.
If you are injured in a car accident in Florida, you can seek compensation by filing a lawsuit, even if you were partly or largely to blame. However, you should act quickly because Florida, like all other states, has a law called the statute of limitations. This post will explain what the statute of limitations is and why it is needed. It will also cover the ways the law could affect your chances of recovering damages if you decide to file a car accident lawsuit.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a law that limits the amount of time prosecutors have to file criminal charges, and plaintiffs have to file civil lawsuits. All states have a statute of limitations, but the time limits they impose can be quite different.
In Florida, car accident victims are usually given four years to file personal injury lawsuits, but many other states have statutes of limitations that require lawsuits to be filed in two years. Car accident victims in Louisiana and Tennessee have only one year to take legal action, but the statutes of limitations in Maine and North Dakota allow lawsuits to be filed up to six years after an accident.
Why Is a Statute of Limitations Important?
The purpose of a civil lawsuit is to determine what happened, why it happened and who is responsible. And these goals are far more likely to be achieved if the events are recent. Car accident victims sometimes think the statute of limitations works against them, but it actually disadvantages the defendant. The passage of time usually benefits the party being sued, which means car accident victims who delay taking legal action will probably face a tougher road even if they file their lawsuits within the time limit allowed by law.
If lawsuits could be filed decades after the events in question occurred, witnesses could have moved away or died, and other evidence could have deteriorated or been lost. A statute of limitations prevents plaintiffs from finding themselves in this situation, and it also allows people to live their lives without the threat of legal action hanging over them.
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What Does the Florida Statute of Limitations Say About Car Accidents?
The Florida statute of limitations does not specifically mention car accidents, but it does place time limits for filing lawsuits based on various causes of action. The vast majority of car accident lawsuits are based on the tort of negligence, which means the plaintiffs almost always have two years from the date of the accident to take legal action. There are other possible causes of action for a car accident lawsuit, but the time accident victims are given to file lawsuits is usually the same two years.
Car, Truck and Motorcycle Accident Lawsuits in Florida
Car truck and motorcycle accident lawsuits in Florida must usually be filed within two years, and they can be brought by any party that suffered injury, loss or damage. That means you can file a lawsuit to recover damages even if you were not behind the wheel of a passenger vehicle or riding a motorcycle. Plaintiffs do not have to prove their allegations beyond a reasonable doubt in a personal injury lawsuit because damages are awarded in civil cases based on the preponderance of the evidence. This means that plaintiffs prevail if they convince the court that their claims are more likely true than false.
When personal injury plaintiffs meet this burden, they may be awarded damages to compensate them for their property damage, medical bills, lost income and pain and suffering. Punitive damages are not usually awarded in negligence cases, but they could be recovered in cases involving road rage incidents that are based on an intentional tort, such as assault.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Florida
Under Florida law, a death is considered to be wrongful when it is caused by a wrongful act or negligence. Wrongful death lawsuits are brought by the estate of the deceased individual, and the statute of limitations usually gives them two years from the date of death to file a claim. The decedent’s personal representative initiates a wrongful death lawsuit. This is the person the decedent appointed in their estate plan or last will and testament. If the decedent did not leave a will, a personal representative will be appointed by the court during the probate process.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by a personal representative is brought on behalf of the estate, but the law does not allow all of the decedent’s beneficiaries to recover damages. In a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida, damages can only be recovered by the decedent’s:
- Blood relatives
- Adopted siblings
The law also limits the type of damages that can be awarded in wrongful death cases. Most of the damages awarded in these cases compensate the plaintiffs for the decedent’s lost income, but compensation is also awarded to cover expenses like funeral costs and medical bills. Damages are not usually awarded to compensate wrongful death plaintiffs for the decedent’s pain and suffering, but an exception is made to compensate the parents of minor children for their emotional distress. Spouses can also recover wrongful death damages to compensate them for their loss of companionship.
Things Car Accident Victims Need to Know About the Florida Statute of Limitations
Car accident victims should bear in mind that the time limit imposed by the statute of limitations applies to the date a lawsuit is filed and not the date when it is settled, or a jury returns a verdict. Car accident lawsuits sometimes drag on for a year or longer, but the clock stops running as soon as papers are filed with the court.
The statute of limitations is not the only time limit that car accident victims need to consider. Florida has a no-fault insurance law, which means drivers injured in accidents must file claims with their own insurance companies even if somebody else was responsible. The law may give you two years to file a personal injury lawsuit, but your insurance company may only give you 30 days to submit a claim.
Car accident victims in Florida are sometimes reluctant to pursue legal remedies because they were partly or mainly at fault. If you were speeding, distracted or even impaired when you were involved in an accident, you may still be able to recover damages under Florida’s comparative negligence law. Florida follows the pure comparative negligence principle, which means accident victims can recover damages even if they are 90% to blame. However, the damages negligent accident victims recover will be reduced to reflect their degree of fault. If the jury determines that you were 50% responsible for causing the accident that injured you, the damages you are awarded will be reduced by 50%.
How Long Do I Have to File a Car Accident Lawsuit in Florida?
You usually have two years from the date of a car accident to file a lawsuit against a party that caused you injury, loss or damage. The statute of limitations does include some exceptions, but the four-year time limit it imposes in personal injury cases usually applies. The time limit for filing wrongful death cases connected to motor vehicle accidents is two years instead of four years, but the clock starts to run on the date of death and not the date of the accident.
Does the Statute of Limitations Apply to All Car Accident Claims?
The four-year time limit the Florida statute of limitations imposes applies to cases that are based on the tort of negligence, but negligence is not always the cause of action in a car accident lawsuit. If you are suing a party that caused you injury for a reason other than negligence, a different time provision in the statute of limitations will apply to your case. If the party you are suing did not act negligently, your lawsuit could be based on:
- Product liability: If you suffered injuries in a motor vehicle accident because the car that you were driving or the car that struck you was defective in some way, the lawsuit you file will be based on product liability rather than negligence. However, the amount of time you will have to take legal action will be the same two years if you suffered an injury and two years if somebody died. Strict liability exists in these cases, which means you can recover damages even if the defendant did not act negligently.
- Trespass: If another person enters your property in a motor vehicle without permission and injures you or causes damage, you can sue them based on the tort of trespass. When lawsuits are based on intentional torts like trespass, the statute of limitations imposes the same four and two-year limits for personal injury and wrongful death claims that apply in negligence cases.
- Assault: This is another intentional tort that allows car accident victims to recover damages, but they will still have to take legal action within two or four years. You could file a car accident lawsuit based on assault if another person deliberately strikes you or your car with a motor vehicle. Assault is often the cause of action when lawsuits are filed after road rage incidents.
Exceptions to the Florida Statute of Limitations
When Florida lawmakers passed the state’s statute of limitations, they also created several exceptions that provided injured parties more time to file their claims. The statute of limitations still applies in these situations, but the clock stops running. These exceptions are based on a legal principle called tolling. When a lawsuit is tolled, the statute of limitations is paused in the same way a game clock is paused during a sporting contest when a player calls a time-out. Here are the exceptions to the statute of limitations in Florida that apply to car accident lawsuits:
- Age of the plaintiff: Lawsuit plaintiffs in Florida must have the capacity to sue. This means that they can only take legal action if they have legal grounds to do so. If an accident victim is a minor, they cannot pursue legal remedies for injury, loss or damage that they suffer in an accident until they reach the age of majority, which is 18 in Florida. If you are injured in an accident in Florida before you reach the age of 18, the time limit imposed by the statute of limitations could be extended from two years to as long as seven years.
- Incapacity: People who are injured in car accidents can only take legal action if they have the physical and mental capacity to do so. If a person suffers accident injuries that leave them mentally incapacitated or in a coma, they would not be able to take the steps involved in pursuing a legal claim. The statute of limitations gives incapacitated plaintiffs up to seven years to file lawsuits, but they only get the extra time if a court determines that they were incapacitated.
- The defendant flees or hides: Not everybody sticks around to face the consequences of their actions. If the person you are suing flees the state or country, your lawsuit would be tolled until they return or are captured. The time limit imposed by the statute of limitations would also stop running if the defendant started living under a false name or took other steps to conceal themselves from the authorities. If you cannot find the defendant, you cannot serve them with legal papers.
- Arbitration: Parties involved in personal lawsuits are encouraged to settle their disputes if possible because the courts in Florida are extremely busy. A ticking clock and looming deadline could make a plaintiff less willing to pursue alternatives in court, so the statute of limitations is paused when disputing parties enter into arbitration. The clock starts to run again as soon as the arbitration proceedings are over.
- The defendant dies: If the person you are suing dies before your case is resolved, the court will give you an extra 90 days to file a motion that names their personal representative as the new defendant.
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Is There a Time Limit on Filing Claims Against a Hit-and-run Driver?
You will not be able to file a lawsuit against a negligent person who injured you if you do not know who they are. If you are injured by a hit-and-run driver, the four-year time limit imposed by the statute of limitations would apply (Florida Statutes § 95.11). However, your right to pursue compensation could be tolled because the defendant fled the scene. This would fall under the exemption created by lawmakers that applies to defendants who flee or hide. The authorities usually catch hit-and-run drivers quickly or not at all, so tolling would probably not change things very much.
If you are injured by a hit-and-run driver who is later identified by the police, you could seek punitive as well as compensatory damages if you decide to file a lawsuit. Punitive damages are awarded to make an example of the defendant and deter others from behaving in the same way.
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What Happens When the Deadline is Missed?
If you are injured in an accident in Florida and do not file a lawsuit within the time allowed by the statute of limitations, your case would likely be dismissed unless you qualify for one of the exemptions created by lawmakers. If this happens, you would be left with no legal way to seek compensation, even if you suffered serious injuries and the defendant was clearly at fault.
Legal Remedies May Not Be Available
If you file a lawsuit in Florida after the four-year time limit imposed by the statute of limitations has passed, the defendant’s attorney will almost certainly seek to have the case dismissed. If you do not qualify for an exemption because you were a minor at the time of the accident, were left incapacitated by the accident, or the defendant took steps to avoid you, their motion would be granted, and the case would be dismissed.
When cases are filed after the time allowed by the statute of limitations has passed, they are usually dismissed with prejudice. This means the court’s rule is final, and the plaintiff cannot try again. When cases are dismissed with prejudice, the plaintiff may be ordered to pay the defendant’s legal costs. This means that waiting too long to file a lawsuit could actually cost you money.
You Could Receive Reduced or No Compensation
Failing to take legal action within the time permitted by the statute of limitations could also leave you with no way to receive compensation for your injury, loss or damage. You or your attorney could still try to negotiate a settlement with the negligent party, but they would have little reason to pay anything because saying no would not lead to any legal consequence. Telling a negligent party, “I’ll see you in court,” is a hollow threat when a lawsuit would be dismissed almost immediately.
4 Main Types of Florida Car Accident Claims
In Florida, there are four main types of car accident claims: personal injury claims, property damage claims and wrongful death claims. Each type of claim has its own set of rules regarding time limits on filing a lawsuit as well as other requirements that must be met in order to recover compensation. Understanding these different types of claims is critical if you wish to seek justice after being hurt in an automobile collision.
1. Personal Injury Claims
Personal injury claims are the most common type of car accident claim. In a personal injury case, you must prove that the other driver was negligent and their negligence caused your injury. To successfully file a personal injury claim in Florida, you must do so within two years from the date of the accident.
2. Property Damage Claims
Property damage claims are a type of claim that is filed when you have suffered losses due to damage to your vehicle or other property. You must file this type of claim within two years from the date of the accident in order to be eligible for compensation.
3. Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death claims are a form of civil lawsuit where the surviving family members of a person who was killed in an accident can seek compensation for their loss. This type of claim must be filed within two years from the date of the accident or death, whichever is later in most cases.
4. Product Liability Lawsuit
Product liability lawsuits are a type of lawsuit that can be filed when an injury or death has occurred due to a defective automobile part. For instance, a faulty airbag may have caused injury to a driver or a passenger. These cases must be filed within two years from the date of the accident in most cases. To file a product liability lawsuit, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer who specializes in this type of claim as soon as possible.
How long after an accident do you have to file a claim in Florida?
In Florida, you must file a claim within two years from the date of the accident for both personal injury claims and property damage claims. For wrongful death claims, you must usually file within two years from the date of the accident or death, whichever is later. Product liability lawsuits must usually be filed within two years from the date of the accident.
What’s the law for car accidents in Florida?
The state of Florida is a no-fault state, meaning each driver’s insurance company pays for their medical expenses and lost wages, regardless of who is at fault. Additionally, Florida requires drivers to carry a minimum amount of insurance coverage in order to drive legally. The minimum amounts are $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) and $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL).
Other types of insurance coverage, such as bodily injury liability (BIL) and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM), are optional but strongly recommended.
What is the 14-day accident law in Florida?
The 14-day accident law in Florida requires car accident victims to seek out medical care within 14 days after the vehicle accident if they want to be eligible for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. PIP benefits are insurance benefits that can help cover medical costs and lost wages due to the accident. If a victim fails to seek out medical care within this timeframe, they may be denied coverage for their medical bills and other related expenses.
What is the statute of limitations for a hit-and-run in Florida?
The statute of limitations for a hit and run in Florida is generally going to depend on the type of lawsuit that is brought forward. The statute of limitations for a hit-and-run accident in Florida depends on the type of lawsuit you bring.
Per Florida Statutes § 95.11, if your loved one passed away, you typically have two years to file a wrongful death suit. The same statute indicates that you generally have two years from the date of your accident to bring a personal injury lawsuit for the car accident.
If you have been involved in a hit-and-run, it’s of vital importance to immediately contact an experienced personal injury attorney. If this type of accident has happened to you or a loved one, consider hiring Car Accident Attorney Andrew Pickett to represent you in your suit. Why? Firstly, the team at Andrew Pickett Law can work diligently to locate the hit-and-run motorist. Secondly, they can help you submit the needed paperwork and other requirements for important deadlines. Finally, they can gather the critical evidence to file your claim or lawsuit.
What happens if you’re sued after a car accident?
First, don’t panic if you are being sued after a car accident. Speak with an experienced personal injury attorney immediately to discuss your legal options and the potential consequences of a lawsuit.
Put an Experienced Attorney on Your Side
If you were injured in a car accident in Florida and somebody else was partly or completely to blame, you should speak to an experienced personal injury attorney even if you have filed a claim with your insurance company. Andrew Pickett Law has recovered millions of dollars for car accident victims in Florida, and we always put our client’s interests first. If you would like to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case and learn about your legal options, you can contact us by calling (321) 415-8053 or filling out our online form.