How long after a car accident can you sue in Florida? If you were injured in a Florida car accident, you don’t have forever to resolve your claim. Practical limitations exist, and Florida law imposes formal limitations as well. You need to pay attention to both types of limitations to maximize your chances of winning fair compensation. You are also going to need to retain an experienced personal injury lawyer.
What Does the Statute of Limitations Do?
The statute of limitations sets the deadline by which you must either file a formal lawsuit in a Florida court or forever hold your peace. If you try to file a claim after the statute of limitations deadline expires, the court will throw it out unless an exception applies. Although certain exceptions exist, they do not apply to most claimants.
The Florida Statute of Limitations
The Florida statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit (including a car accident lawsuit) tells you how long after an accident you can sue in Florida. The general bodily injury deadline is four years after the date of the injury. If someone died in the accident and if you wish to file a wrongful death lawsuit, the deadline is two years after the date of death. Remember, the wrongful death statute of limitations period begins on the date of death, not necessarily the date of the injury.
Exceptions That “Toll” the Statute of Limitations Deadline
Think of the statute of limitations as a countdown clock. When the countdown reaches zero, the statute of limitations deadline arrives, and any claim for which a lawsuit has not already been filed dies. The statute is “tolled” when the clock stops before the deadline due to the application of an exception to the statute of limitations deadline. Consult with your attorney to learn whether an exception to the statute of limitations deadline might apply to you.
Claims Against the Government
In many car accident cases you might need to file a lawsuit against the state, local, or federal government to receive full compensation. This might happen, for example, if poor road maintenance or a poorly maintained traffic light caused your accident or if a car driven by an on-duty government employee collided with yours. Following are descriptions of special deadlines that apply.
Lawsuits Against a Local Government or the State of Florida
For claims against a local government or the State of Florida, you must notify the relevant state agency plus the Department of Financial Services of your claim within three years of the accident (two years after the accident for a wrongful death claim). There is also a mandatory investigation period of 180 days, during which time you cannot file a lawsuit.
Lawsuits Against the Federal Government
For claims against the federal government, you must file a written claim with the appropriate federal agency within two years after the accident, regardless of whether the claim is for personal injury or wrongful death. If the agency mails you a decision you are not satisfied with, you have six more months to file a lawsuit. If the agency fails to make a decision one way or the other, you can treat it as a denial after your claim has been pending for six months.
Settlement: How Long After a Car Accident Can You Claim Injury in Florida?
Parties resolve most car accident claims through settlement, not courtroom litigation. However, once the statute of limitations expires, you can no longer file a claim in court. Once you no longer have that leverage, the opposing party has no motivation to negotiate with you. Conclude your negotiations and sign a settlement agreement before the statute of limitations deadline expires. Otherwise, file a lawsuit before the deadline expires.
Why You Should Sue Before the Statute of Limitations Expires
Most people who file car accident lawsuits do so long before the statute of limitations expires. There is more than one good reason for this.
When Claims Grow Stale
A personal injury claim can grow stale, making it difficult to win. Even if you do win a stale claim, you might not receive anything close to the true value of your claim. It is for this reason that you should file your claim as soon as possible (assuming that your claim is well-researched and well-prepared).
What renders a personal injury claim stale? A number of factors may come into play. Witnesses’ memories may grow foggy, or they may move out of state or become impossible to locate. Physical evidence may deteriorate or get lost. “Strike while the iron is hot” is a good principle to live by when preparing a car accident claim.
Access to the Discovery Process
Another reason why a car accident claimant might expedite a car accident lawsuit is that filing a lawsuit gives you access to the “discovery” evidence collection process. During the discovery process, you can demand evidence that is in the possession of the other party, and sometimes even a third party. If they refuse to give it to you, you may be able to seek a court order compelling them to provide it. If they disobey the court order, the court can impose numerous sanctions.
Access to the discovery process can uncover evidence that might drastically improve your chances of winning your claim. Suppose, for example, a commercial truck hit your car and injured you. You claim that the driver was texting at the time of the accident. During the discovery process, you obtain the truck’s Event Data Recorder (EDR). The EDR recorded that the driver did not brake before the truck hit you. This evidence might buttress your claim for negligence.
Contact Us Without Delay
Defendants and insurance companies absolutely love one type of claimantーthe claimant who doesn’t understand the true value of their claim. We can determine the value of your claim for you, and we won’t let anybody take advantage of you. Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon has been representing car accident victims since way back in 1913, when cars were considered innovations. Contact us by calling 850-444-4878 or by visiting our online contact page.