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Time Limits for Filing a Lawsuit in Florida

Imagine you have been involved in an auto accident.  You may have thought at the time that your injuries were minor and would heal soon, but they haven’t.  Or imagine you took your car in for repairs a few months back and discovered only after you were in a crash that your brake fluid has been leaking. Can you still file a lawsuit even if you did not discover the damage right away? Yes, you can, provided you are still within the statute of limitations.

Statutes of limitations

The statute of limitations establishes a time limit after an injury occurs for an injured party to file a lawsuit.  Once the time limit has passed, any lawsuit is barred, which means that the court will not hear it at all.  Florida’s statute of limitations establishes the following time periods for filing personal injury claims:

  • Negligence claims – 4 years from the date of the event that caused injury;
  • Medical malpractice claims – 2 years from the date of the event or 2 years from the date that the injury was discovered or should have been discovered in the exercise of due diligence (but in any event not later than 4 years from the date of the event);
  • Wrongful death – 2 years;
  • Claims against a city, state or county government – 3 years (for example, if you were involved in an accident caused by street conditions or a city employee driving a city vehicle).

Why is there a statute of limitations?

The statute of limitations attempts to balance a plaintiff’s entitlement to recovery with a defendant’s interest in not having a potential lawsuit hanging over his/her head indefinitely.  It creates predictability and fairness in the legal process by encouraging plaintiffs to act in a timely fashion.  Moreover, as time passes evidence can deteriorate, witnesses’ memories can fade, and the ability to investigate an incident diminishes.  Statutes of limitations ensure that a lawsuit will happen before all the evidence is gone.

Tolling the statute of limitations

Under certain circumstances, the statute of limitations can be tolled, or suspended, which results in extending the time to file a lawsuit.  Under Florida law, the following circumstances (among others) toll the statute:

  • The defendant is out of state;
  • The defendant is using a false name unknown to the plaintiff to avoid being served with a lawsuit;
  • The defendant is hiding to avoid being served;
  • The plaintiff has been found to be incapacitated before the cause of action accrued (that is, legally unable to sue, e.g. because of a disability); or
  • The plaintiff is a minor and does not have a parent, guardian, or guardian ad litem to bring suit on her behalf.

Consult a Florida personal injury lawyer

It can be difficult to determine precisely when the statute of limitations for a particular claim has passed because many factors can be involved.  For this reason, if you believe you may have a case, you should consult an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.  The South Florida attorneys of Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith, PLLC, have represented clients in all manner of personal injury cases throughout Florida since 1927.  Contact us for a consultation today.

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