All states have laws, referred to as statutes of limitations, which govern the length of time a plaintiff has to bring a lawsuit against another party that causes them harm. Under Florida law, most car accident victims have four years from their date of injury to file an injury claim. Family members who have lost a loved one in a Florida car accident and want to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver or another party responsible for the accident only have two years to take legal action.
Below we provide more information about Florida’s statute of limitations for car accident injury claims, why the deadline is important, exceptions to the four-year time clock, and reasons a Florida court might pause or toll the statute of limitations for a car accident victim.
Florida Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Injury Claims
The four-year statute of limitations timeline for a car accident injury claim begins from the date of the car accident. Those who want to bring a lawsuit because they suffered injuries must file the suit before the end of the four years. The car accident claim does not need to be resolved within four years. Although you have four years to take action against the driver or another party that caused your accident, it is best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Reasons you should not wait to take action include:
Avoid a Motion to Dismiss Your Case
If you wait too long to file a lawsuit after a Florida car accident, you risk the court dismissing your case. Regardless of how strong your case is against another driver or party, Florida courts must comply with the law. If you accidentally file the claim after the four-year deadline, you risk the other side filing a motion to dismiss your case. A court will likely grant that motion, which means you would lose the opportunity to recover losses related to your car accident and injuries.
More Time to Build a Strong Case
You need ample time to gather relevant evidence to support your Florida car accident claim. Waiting until the last minute to file a claim forces you and your attorney to rush to put together a case that gives you the best chances of recovering the maximum compensation for your injuries. Many facts of the accident come from the official police report, and medical records; however, building a strong negligence case requires deeper investigation.
Examples of evidence your lawyer might obtain to support your claim include:
- Eyewitness statements. Sometimes it takes a little time to track down an eyewitness to interview them even after they gave a statement to the police. Filing a suit early gives lawyers time to locate and speak to those who saw your car accident.
- Opinions from expert witnesses. Lawyers sometimes employ the help of various experts and specialists to build a strong case for their clients. In car accident claims, a lawyer might consult with accident reconstruction specialists and/or life care planners. Filing a suit quickly gives experts the time they need for analysis and providing an opinion.
- Cell phone records. Car accidents sometimes occur because the defendant was texting or talking and driving without a hands-free device. Lawyers can request cell phone records to find out whether a driver’s illegal use of a cell phone led to an accident.
- Driving history. Researching a defendant’s driving history can establish dangerous patterns of driving behaviors that could support a car accident victim’s claim.
- Criminal history. A defendant’s criminal history can reveal facts about drug and alcohol use and other behaviors that could benefit a plaintiff’s case.
- Video surveillance tapes. Some Florida cities have traffic cameras. Video footage can provide valuable evidence to support a claim. Additionally, businesses in proximity to the accident site might have video surveillance footage that caught the car accident on tape. Searching for this additional footage takes time, making it important to take action early after a Florida car accident.
Another important reason to take immediate action after a Florida car accident claim is that the quality and availability of evidence for your claim diminishes over time. Having ample and useful evidence gives clients the best chance of prevailing in their car accident claim. Most videos and documents are digital, so you do not risk paper documents getting ruined if you wait too long to bring a lawsuit. However, waiting too long to take action means more time for digital documents to disappear, get saved over, or get corrupted, leaving you less proof for your car accident claim.
Prevailing in a car accident claim sometimes requires lawyers to reach out to eyewitnesses and depose them. As time goes on, people’s recollection of events gets foggy and distorted; some completely forget the details of what they saw the day your accident happened. The sooner you have witness statements to support your claim, the more reliable those statements are. Weak witness statements can sometimes harm a car accident case more than help. Additionally, witnesses die or move to a different state, making it exceptionally difficult or impossible to get the evidence you need for your Florida car accident case.
Exceptions to Florida’s Four-Year Statute of Limitations
The vast majority of Florida car accident claims, and claims in other states, involve another motorist and fall under the state’s four-year statute of limitations. However, not all defendants in car accident injury claims are motorists. Different defendants and different situations sometimes provide exceptions to Florida’s statute of limitations for car accident injury claims. The most common exceptions to Florida’s four-year statute of limitations include:
Filing an Injury Claim Against a Government Entity in Florida
States, counties, and municipalities have a legal obligation to maintain roads in a way that keeps drivers safe from accidents and injuries. Failure to meet this obligation can lead to a wide range of poor road maintenance practices that could cause an accident.
Examples of situations that could open a government entity up to liability for a Florida car accident include:
- Flooded roads from clogged drains or poor drainage design
- Potholes and sinkholes
- Large spills on a road
- Unmarked roads without shoulder or centerline markings
- Missing or incorrect signage
- Broken traffic lights
- Lack of streetlights or burned out streetlights
- Blocked roads from fallen trees
Suing a town, city, state, or another government entity is more complex than bringing a claim against a private party after suffering car accident injuries. Car accident victims and their lawyers need to follow special paperwork and timeline protocols.
Some key requirements related to time include:
- You must notify the government entity of your claim before you file a lawsuit.
- You must notify the Florida Department of Financial Services of your car accident injury claim within three years.
- Once you notify the government of your intentions, they have six months to investigate your claim before you can bring a lawsuit.
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim After a Florida Car Accident
If you have lost a loved one because they sustained fatal injuries in a car accident, you might receive compensation if you choose to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the person or business that caused the fatal accident. If you have a viable claim, you must bring a lawsuit against the at-fault party within two years from the date your loved one passed. Under Florida laws, a representative of the estate of the deceased typically files the suit on behalf of eligible family members. It is doubtful you can file a wrongful death lawsuit after the statute of limitations runs out, so it is important to take action soon after losing a loved one to fatal car accident injuries.
Filing a Car Accident Claim for a Child in Florida
If your child sustained injuries in a Florida car accident, he or she has seven years to bring a lawsuit against the party responsible for the accident. For example, if a 16-year-old suffered injuries due to negligence in a car accident, they would have to file a suit before the anniversary of the date of the accident in the year they turn 23. However, even when minors could wait and file the suit as an adult, this is not the norm. In the vast majority of car accidents that result in a child’s injuries, one or both parents bring a lawsuit on behalf of their child.
Tolling Florida’s Statute of Limitations
Florida courts must comply with the statute of limitations for car accident claims; however, some situations warrant tolling or pausing the statute of limitations. Tolling the statute of limitations after an accident claim is rare, but courts do provide extensions in some cases, especially when plaintiffs do not have control over potential delays with a lawsuit. Under Florida law, examples of scenarios that could lead to a court tolling the statute of limitations after an accident claim, include:
If the defendant you name in your car accident claim leaves Florida permanently or for an extended time, a court may toll the statute of limitations. Once you file a lawsuit, you must serve the defendant with a notice of the lawsuit. It can be impossible for a plaintiff to carry out this task when the defendant leaves the state.
Some defendants in car accident lawsuits do everything they can to avoid getting served papers. Some even go to the extreme of giving a false name after a car accident. If a defendant fraudulently misrepresents his or her name, making it more difficult to serve the process papers, a Florida court might toll the statute of limitations. The time of the extension depends on the situation. Typically, courts toll the statute for the amount of time that a defendant delayed the process.
Florida law permits courts to toll the statute of limitations for a car accident injury lawsuit if the defendant hides to avoid getting served papers. They might stay with friends or a family member and keep themselves out of the public eye to avoid service. Depending on how long a defendant stays hidden to avoid a lawsuit, a court could toll the statute of limitations for months or years.
Sometimes car accident victims suffer serious injuries that physically and/or mentally incapacitate them, so they cannot take legal action on their own. Other times, car accident victims already suffer some disease or condition before a car accident that prevents them from bringing a lawsuit within the normal statute of limitations. Depending on the exact circumstances, a Florida court might toll the statute of limitations until the plaintiff can file an accident injury lawsuit, or another person can file a claim on behalf of the plaintiff.
How a Lawyer Can Help with Your Florida Car Accident Claim
Regardless of how much time has passed since the car accident that led to your injuries, you should meet with an experienced car accident lawyer who can review your case and guide you through the claims process.
Examples of how an attorney can help your claim, especially with issues surrounding statutes of limitations, include:
Lawyers help plaintiffs in car accident claims meet all deadlines, eliminating the risk of filing after the statute of limitations has ended.
- Lawyers help car accident victims meet all procedural requirements for special situations, such as filing a lawsuit against a government entity.
- Lawyers explain which specific statutes of limitations apply to a specific person and car accident claim.
- Lawyers help car accident victims who have grounds for tolling the statute of limitations petition the court and request additional time.
- Lawyers help car accident victims who are incapacitated by filing a lawsuit on their behalf or facilitating a lawsuit through a trusted friend or family member.