Understanding The Statute Of Limitations And Your Personal Injury Case

You may have heard the term “statute of limitations” before. A statute of limitations is the timeframe that a plaintiff has to file a civil lawsuit or a prosecutor has to pursue criminal charges. 

In many cases, it is one of the most important deadlines because it dictates whether or not a claim can actually become a lawsuit

The statute of limitations applies to all types of civil personal injury cases in Florida. The exact deadline will vary depending on the type of personal injury case and the tort theory that is applied. 

A personal injury lawyer can help you identify the statute of limitations that applies and keep track of it throughout your case. 

What Is The Purpose Of The Statute Of Limitations In Florida

What Is The Purpose Of The Statute Of Limitations In Florida

There are two main purposes of the statute of limitations in Florida. This first is to protect defendants and the second is to create order and predictability in the courts.

Protect Defendant’s Rights

The main purpose of the statute of limitations in Florida is to protect defendants’ rights. The statute of limitations gives them a fair opportunity to defend themselves in court. 

While a plaintiff may be planning to file a lawsuit for a long time, a defendant usually isn’t aware that legal trouble is brewing until the lawsuit is filed. In some cases, they might think that the case will be settled through insurance and be caught off-guard when it doesn’t work out.

While preparing to file, a plaintiff will usually collect evidence to support their case. This happens when the defendant doesn’t realize that they need to start preparing and aren’t collecting evidence. Without a statute of limitations, the defendant may not have access to evidence to defend themselves after a long time has passed.

That’s because, over time, evidence is lost. For example, a witness’s memory may fade, they might move out of state, or even die. If a lawsuit hasn’t been filed, the defendant will not have taken depositions. 

Furthermore, valuable records may be destroyed after a certain period if they aren’t accessed promptly. Even video or photographic evidence can be lost if it isn’t stored properly or earmarked for legal proceedings.

It’s only fair that the defendant has the notice to begin preparing their defense and preserve favorable evidence. Having a statute of limitations ensures that the defendant is given fair notice and that opportunity.

Create Order And Predictability In The Courts

The other purpose of the statute of limitations is to preserve a sense of order and to create predictability in the courts.

A statute of limitations ensures that certain types of lawsuits have a deadline. This creates order in the court and predictability. While you never know what may be filed, you do know that there will not be an influx of extremely old cases at any given time. 

This helps the clerks and judges maintain a docket and predict the court’s schedule. For example, if the court knows that there are usually 1,000 personal injury cases filed every year, they can predict that this will be the same over time. That’s because of the statute of limitations. Without the statute of limitations, 500 of those cases may not be filed until 10 years in the future, or all at once. 

The statute of limitations also helps to deter frivolous lawsuits. It forced plaintiffs to file cases contemporaneously. When someone waits a long time to file a lawsuit (without an exempt reason), it is more likely to be frivolous. Plus, it is less likely to be successful because of the issue of evidence loss. 

What Is The Statute Of Limitations In Florida Personal Injury Cases

The Florida statute of limitations was recently amended. The statute of limitations depends on the type of personal injury case and the tort theory applied in the case. Because of the recent change, it also may vary based on the date of the accident or injury.

There is a four-year statute of limitations for: 

  • Defective product cases 
  • Cases based on statutory liability (like dog bites)
  • Intentional torts (like assault and battery or malicious prosecution)

There is a two-year statute of limitations for: 

You should discuss your case with a lawyer to make sure you understand what statute of limitations may apply.

Exceptions To The Statute Of Limitations 

There are some exceptions to the statute of limitations in Florida. For example, personal injury lawsuits against the government must be filed within 3 years. 

There are also certain times when the statute of limitations is tolled. This means that the time period is paused because something happened, or failed to happen. The statute of limitations may be tolled because:

  • The defendant left the state of Florida and cannot be served with process
  • The defendant is in Florida but is evading service of process (in hiding)
  •  Mental incapacity (can be tolled for up to 7 years)
  • The parties are undergoing arbitration 

It is important to remember that the statute of limitations doesn’t start until the discovery of an injury, or when the plaintiff reasonably should have discovered an injury. 

For example, after a car accident, a plaintiff might believe that they are not injured. However, a few months later they might develop debilitating back and neck pain. Once they go to the doctor, they learn it was likely caused by the car accident. At that point, the plaintiff can file the lawsuit and is not likely penalized for the time between the accident and discovering the injury. 

This scenario is very common in brain injury cases where the extent of the injury isn’t clear until months, or years, in the future.

Contact a Florida Personal Injury Lawyer for Help

If you miss the statute of limitations, your case will most likely be dismissed. This means that you will lose your legal right to pursue compensation in court. 

You won’t get another chance to file a lawsuit and any attempts to settle outside of court will probably fail. After all, the defendant won’t have the incentive to reach an agreement without the threat of a lawsuit.

Because of this strict rule, it is important to keep close track of the statute of limitations. It can be the difference between filing your lawsuit and winning compensation or being left without any legal recourse at all. By hiring a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible, you can protect yourself from missing the deadline. Contact our personal injury attorney Brannon & Brannon Car Accident & Personal Injury Lawyers at (850) 863-5297.