Personal injury lawsuits are civil claims (known in legalese as “torts”) which allow victims injured by others to seek financial compensation for their losses.
As most people are well aware, there’s no law requiring at-fault parties to automatically or fairly compensate people they harm. Victims must take the initiative to bring claims against parties they claim are responsible for their damages – and they must do so within a specified amount of time.
Understanding the “Statute of Limitations” in Your Case
In civil cases, the statute of limitations generally refers to the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit against a defendant. It is, for all intents and purposes, a “time limit” or a “deadline” on your claim, and it exists to ensure that lawsuits are brought within a reasonable time in the interest of justice.
Should you fail to file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out, your claim stated in your lawsuit will likely be barred, and you will not have the ability to hold an at-fault party liable for your damages (losses).
While some types of legal matters may not have a statute of limitations (i.e. very serious crimes), most do. In Florida, the statute of limitations for civil injury claims, or “torts” as they are referred, can vary depending on the circumstances involved, including:
- The nature of the claim;
- When the “clock” starts;
- The alleged at-fault party (i.e. private party or public entity); and
- Other factors that may (in certain, limited cases) extend the statute of limitations for victims.
Generally, the statute of limitations for civil injury cases in Florida are as follows:
- Personal Injury – 4 years
- Medical Malpractice – 2 years
- Assault / Battery – 2 years
- Product Liability – 2 or 4 years
- Wrongful Death – 2 years
- Workers’ Compensation – 2 years
These are broad examples of the statute of limitations in injury-related cases; other time limits may apply to different types of civil claims and causes of actions, and those mentioned above may be subject to nuances in the law that impact the statute of limitations for that particular case.
The best way to understand and avoid issues concerning the statute of limitations is to bring your matter to the attention of an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
When the Statute of Limitations “Clock” Starts
The point at which the statute of limitations “clock” starts ticking depends on the individual facts of a case. Though the statutes of limitations mentioned above apply to most injury cases, it is important to note there are exceptions – especially when they concern when the statute of limitations begins.
- Date of injury – For most cases, the statute of limitations will begin when an underlying accident and injury occurs. That could be the date you were involved in a car accident, or the day you were injured on another’s property.
- Discovery – In some cases, a person may not realize that certain events caused them harm and damages. This happens in certain types of injury cases, especially those involving medical malpractice (i.e. a failure to diagnose cancer), and sexual abuse or assault. In these situations, the statute of limitations begins when a victim reasonably “discovers” their injuries and / or the link between an underlying negligent or wrongful act and their damages.
- Tolling – In cases where there are situations beyond the control of a victim looking to bring a claim that would prevent a case from moving forward, it may be possible to “toll” the statute of limitations temporarily. This in effect pauses a case, and is done in the interests of justice, such as if a victim’s mental competence comes into question, the defendant fled the jurisdiction, or the state is involved in war.
Other Considerations That May Extend or Shorten the Statute of Limitations in Florida
While Florida Statute § 95.11(3)(a) sets the personal injury statute of limitations at 4 years from the date an accident occurs, there are many circumstances that can extend or shorten the deadline for filing a claim. Some examples include:
- The type of case – Though they are civil injury cases, claims involving medical malpractice, product liability, and wrongful death are subject to different statutes of limitations.
- The age of the victim – Minors under age 18 are often afforded additional time outside the standard statute of limitations to file claims. Per Florida Statute § 95.051, minors have 7 years after the date of their injury, or until the end of the standard statute of limitations for their case (whichever is longer) to file a claim.
- The injury – There are situations where injuries or illnesses do not manifest until years or even decades after exposure. This is common for certain types of illnesses and occupational diseases, including mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos. In these cases, the statute of limitations may be more forgiving.
- Medical malpractice – Medical malpractice has many nuances when it comes to the statute of limitations. Victims harmed by medical professionals have two years to file a claim under Florida Statute § 95.11(4)(b). However, that 2-year time period can be “tolled” if the victim didn’t discover their injury at the time it occurred. Think of a surgeon leaving an instrument or foreign object in a patient’s body that was not discovered until complications began years later; in this case, the patient would still have the right to bring a claim two years from the date they discovered the injury, even if they made the discovery beyond the statutory 2-year time period. For child victims of medical malpractice, the statute of limitations is 4 years from the date of injury / discovery, or until the child’s turns 8 years old, whichever is later.
- Statute of repose – Medical malpractice claims are additionally subject to what’s known as the statute of repose. In Florida, the statute of repose requires victims to bring medical malpractice suits no later than 4 years after the original cause of injury, regardless of when an injury was discovered. In limited cases, such as those involving a health care provider committing fraud to conceal the patient’s injury, the statue of limitations may be extended additional years from the date of discovery – but even then, no claim can be filed beyond 12 years.
- Product liability – Victims injured by defective products typically have 4 years from the date of their accident / injury to file a claim. Per Florida Statute § 95.031, products are presumed to have an expected “useful life” of 10 years or less, which means injured consumers cannot bring product liability claims for products beyond the 12th year after the purchase date.
- Claims against the government – There are times when victims have viable claims against the government or a public entity (i.e. injuries resulting from an accident involving a public utility vehicle or a public bus, a defective roadway condition, or the negligence of those responsible for maintaining municipal properties). Personal injury cases filed against public entities are subject to different rules and procedures than standard injury cases. They may also be subject to a shorter statute of limitations.
- Sexual abuse – Amid the #MeToo movement and increased awareness of sexual abuse, its impact on minor victims, and its hidden or latent injuries, many states have introduced or passed legislation to expand the statute of limitations for “survivors”. In Florida, state law can provide an extended time limit for survivors to bring civil sexual abuse claims. That may be 7 years after a victim turns 18, 4 years after the victim is no longer dependent on the abuser or from the date they discover their injuries and its link to abuse (whichever is later), or, if the victim was a minor under the age of 16, indefinitely. Given the growing understanding of sexual abuse and assault, and the many high-profile cases nationwide, case law and legislation regarding the civil sexual abuse statute of limitations is still evolving.
No matter what your case may involve, Florida laws regarding the statute of limitations, and its many nuances and exceptions, are a prime example of why it is so important to bring your case to the attention of an attorney as soon as possible. Timely attention from legal professionals can help avoid barred claims and provide your legal team with greater opportunity to build a strong and effective case.
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