In personal injury law, the statute of limitations deadline sets the deadline by which you must either file a lawsuit, reach a settlement, or forever hold your peace. If you file a lawsuit by the deadline, you beat the statute of limitations no matter how long it takes to actually complete your lawsuit. Although the Florida personal injury statute of limitations sets a general deadline, several exceptions apply.
The statute of limitations is like a clock counting backward. Once the countdown reaches zero, your claim dies unless you have settled it or at least filed a lawsuit. Under certain circumstances, you can stop (or “toll) the statute of limitations until an event occurs that starts it running again.
What Is the Purpose of the Statute of Limitations?
There is more than one purpose for having a statute of limitations. The most prominent reasons are:
- To prevent the clogging of the courts with an excess number of cases. If you can file a lawsuit for something that happened 10 years ago, then why not 20 years ago? Why not 40 years ago? Courts would quickly buckle under such strain.
- Personal injury claims tend to grow stale over time. Witnesses forget things, their memories grow fuzzy, or they might move out of state or die. Physical evidence has a tendency to deteriorate over time.
Finally, there is the question of whether it is just to hold someone liable for events that occurred a long time ago. In any event, every state applies a statute of limitations to personal injury claims. Their only major differences are their length and the types of exceptions they permit.
The General Statute of Limitations Deadline
In Florida, the general statute of limitations deadline, applicable to negligence-based personal injury claims, is four years after the injury (in a car accident, for example). This is one of the longest periods in the nation, giving you plenty of time to negotiate a settlement. Compare it, for example, with Tennessee, which applies a one-year statute of limitations deadline.
The general personal injury statute of limitations deadline is subject to many exceptions, as explained below.
If the victim dies from the accident, their personal injury claim becomes a wrongful death claim in favor of the deceased victim’s executor. The personal representative normally has until two years after the victim’s date of death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Never forget that the victim’s date of death, not necessarily the date of injury, starts the statute of limitations countdown ticking.
The statute of limitations countdown is tolled for the amount of time that the defendant conceals the victim’s cause of death. You can imagine, for example, that a negligent doctor might conceal that their medical malpractice was the victim’s true cause of death. Such a doctor shouldn’t be allowed to evade liability by fraudulently misrepresenting their patient’s true cause of death.
The Discovery Rule
Suppose you suffer an injury without immediate symptoms. Alternatively, suppose you experience symptoms immediately but cannot determine their cause until later. You might not find out that you have a personal injury claim until after the statute of limitations deadline has already passed.
Your failure to immediately discover the existence of your personal injury claim doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot press your claim. Florida’s “discovery rule” allows an extension of the statute of limitations deadline when you don’t have enough facts to attribute your harm to someone else’s misconduct.
The “Due Diligence” Rule
Any delay in discovering a personal injury must be reasonable. If the discovery of your injury was unreasonably delayed, the statute of limitation countdown starts ticking on the day you should have discovered it if you had exercised “due diligence.”
Nursing Home Negligence Claims
In a nursing home negligence claim, you have two years from the date of the harm to file a personal injury lawsuit seeking damages on behalf of your loved one. In nursing home neglect claims, the victim is typically subject to wrongful conduct that might extend for years into the past. In cases like this, the statute of limitations countdown begins on the date of the most recent incident of abuse.
If your loved one is mentally incompetent due to dementia or for some other reason, someone else will have to file the claim on their behalf. This person must be the victim’s parent, guardian, power of attorney attorney-in-fact, or probate executor. If nobody fills any of these roles, a judge can appoint someone after a personal injury claim arises.
Medical Malpractice Claims
The statute of limitations for medical malpractice is different from the general personal injury statute of limitations deadline. In a medical malpractice case, you only have two years from the date of your injury to file a lawsuit.
Nevertheless, the discovery rule also applies to medical malpractice claims. Even with the discovery rule, however, a second deadline applies. You only have two years to discover the malpractice and then two more years to file a lawsuit.
If you were a child at the time of the malpractice, you benefit from another extension– you have four years after the date of discovery to file a lawsuit. A child can also (through a guardian) file a medical malpractice claim on or before their eighth birthday, no matter when the malpractice was discovered.
“Abuse,” as used here, includes sexual abuse. A personal injury claim based on abuse stays alive until the victim’s 25th birthday or within four years after they exit a state of dependency on the abuser, or within four years from the time the victim discovers the injury and the fact that the abuse caused their injury (whichever of these three occurs later).
Other Justifications for Tolling the Statute of Limitations
The Florida statute of limitations is tolled as long as:
- The defendant is outside of Florida. This is because the Florida judicial system lacks the resources to compel the defendant to respond to a lawsuit.
- Florida cannot serve formal notice of the lawsuit (“service of process”) on the defendant because they are hiding. “Hiding” includes living under an assumed name.
If the victim was a minor at the time of the injury, the statute is tolled for up to eight years.
A St. Petersburg Personal Injury Lawyer Can Guide You Through the Statute of Limitations Maze
It isn’t worth it to lose a valuable claim simply because you missed a deadline. Don’t let it happen to you. Instead, schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced St. Petersburg personal injury lawyer from Lopez Law Group Accident Injury Attorneys. Tell your story, and let them tell you what they believe the statute of limitations deadline is. Call (727) 933-0015 today!