Almost all legal actions in Florida are subject to a statute of limitations. This is a narrow window of time during which a case must be filed. In civil litigation, victims (not prosecutors) are responsible for pursuing claims.
There is no law that automatically requires people responsible for causing harm to compensate you for it. However, they (or their insurers) can be compelled to pay with a civil claim or lawsuit. But you don’t have unlimited time to do this. Depending on the circumstances, that narrow window of opportunity may be fast closing.
Even if you think you still have a decent amount of time, your legal team may need every spare moment to investigate and build your case. Doing so could even help avoid a drawn-out legal battle. Often, strong cases settle sooner because insurers and defendants know it isn’t worth a protracted fight.
What is the “Statute of Limitations” in My Case?
A statute of limitations is the deadline for your claim. Courts want to ensure lawsuits are filed within a reasonable amount of time. That’s because the more time goes by, the harder it is for witnesses to remember, evidence to be preserved/collected, etc.. If you don’t file within the statute of limitations, it’s likely your case will be tossed.
Very few cases are not subject to a statute of limitations (with exceptions mostly being serious crimes). Most of the cases we handle are going to be in the category of “torts,” which are a type of civil injury claim (things like car accidents, slip-and-falls, medical malpractice, nursing home injury, dog bites – even sexual abuse). In Florida, the window of time you have in which to file your civil injury claim is laid out in F.S. 95.11. It will depend on the type of claim, the identity of the defendant (private persons vs. public entity will make a difference), age of the victim and certain special circumstances.
That said, you can generally expect civil injury statute of limitations in Florida to adhere to the following:
- Personal Injury: 4 Years
- Medical Malpractice: 2 Years
- Assault-Battery – 2 Years
- Product Liability – 2-4 Years
- Wrongful Death – 2 Years
- Workers’ Compensation – 2 Years
Other time limits (shorter or longer) might apply depending on case specifics and certain nuances. In some cases, the statute of limitations is pretty cut-and-dried. Other times, there are sharp disputes over when that clock starts ticking. Some considerations:
- Date of injury. In most South Florida injury cases, the statute of limitations is going to depend wholly on when the accident or injury occurred. This is the day you were in the car accident, the day you slipped and fell, the day you underwent surgery, etc. This can get complicated, though, when we’re talking about, say, a product liability claim where the injury/illness wasn’t discovered until much later. For example, someone with mesothelioma (a type of terminal cancer caused by exposure to asbestos) wouldn’t have an exact “injury” date, and diagnosis occurs decades after exposure.
- Discovery. One of the exceptions that can sometimes result in a longer statute of limitations is the discovery rule. This can extend the statute of limitations when the harm done (or the perpetrator) was not obvious. The discovery rule allows the clock to start ticking when someone discovers (or reasonably should have discovered) the injury or the causal link between underlying negligence and the damage they suffered. For example, if a doctor accidentally leaves a surgical sponge inside you during a procedure but you don’t discover it until four years later, you could still file the claim because you didn’t know (and reasonably could not have known) about the injury on the date of the surgery.
- Age of the victim. Those under 18 are often given additional time outside of the standard statute of limitations. F.S. 95.051 gives minors 7 years from the date of their injury in which to sue.
- Product liability. Someone who is injured by a defective or dangerous product has 4 years from the date of the injury in which to file a claim. However, as most products are presumed to have an expected use life of less than 10 years, injured consumers can’t bring a liability claim against a product manufacturer/seller more than 12 years beyond the date of purchase.
- Government defendants. In some cases, claims may be made against public entities for negligence or other wrongdoing. These are not only more difficult to win, but they may be subject to a shorter statute of limitations than the typical four-year time frame. It’s important to discuss your options as soon as possible with an experienced lawyer.
- Sexual assault or abuse. Florida lawmakers and courts recognize that not all sexual assaults are immediately reported – or even recognized as such at the time they occur. Florida allows victims to file civil sexual abuse claims within 7 years after turning 18 or 4 years from the time they are no longer dependent on the abuser and/or discover their injuries and link it to the abuse. If the victim was under the age of 16 at the time of the abuse, there is no statute of limitations on the civil case. (This is what has led to high-profile cases involving decades-old assaults involving scout leaders, clergy, teachers, etc.)
If you are injured in Florida and are seeking advice on how much time you may have to pursue a claim, our South Florida injury lawyers can help.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
F.S. 95.11, Statutes of Limitations in Florida