How Long After a Car Accident Can You File an Injury Claim?
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) estimates 41 percent of traffic collisions result in one or more injuries for drivers and passengers involved. Florida is a so-called no-fault insurance state, in which all drivers must carry their own mandatory personal injury protection (PIP) policy to recover damages. In some accidents, however, when a person sustains particularly serious injuries or dies, that person (or the person’s survivors) may have the right to seek compensation for damages by filing a personal injury claim against anyone at fault for causing the accident.
Florida law sets the statute of limitations for filing an injury claim, which can vary based on the situation. This guide provides information about filing Florida injury claims and statutes of limitations as they related to car accidents, so you can make sure you recover the compensation you deserve.
Obtaining Benefits Under Your Florida PIP Insurance
If you have a vehicle registered in Florida, you are required to carry at least $10,000 in mandatory property damage liability (PDL) coverage and the same amount in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. Your coverage extends to children and other members of your household who are also in your vehicle when an accident occurs.
After a car accident in which you or your passengers sustain injuries, you must seek medical attention within 14 days to receive benefits under your PIP policy (and, possibly, to receive benefits under any other insurance you carry). The standard PIP policy will cover most, but not all, of your medical costs resulting from an accident, up to the policy limit. Keep in mind that PIP insurance is your primary insurance for car accident injury medical costs, meaning you must resort to this coverage first before seeking benefits under, say, your private health insurance.
Definition of a Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a law which dictates the time period within which a person may start a legal action arising out of a personal injury. Criminal prosecutors are also bound by statutes of limitations after a person commits a crime. Wrongful acts which lead to civil liability and crimes can have a wide variety of statutes of limitations depending on the type of injury claim or the type of crime a person has committed.
When referring to harm suffered from a car accident or other motor vehicle accident, the statute of limitations specifically refers to the amount of time a person has to bring a lawsuit against another party for damages. When the statute of limitation period runs out, the claim “expires”—meaning the injured person loses his or her right to initiate a legal action. Some rare exceptions do exist, but they are few and far between.
Statutes of Limitations in Florida Car Accident Claims
Florida law contains several different statutes of limitation that may apply to taking legal action arising from a car accident injury. The applicable statute depends on who you intend to sue for damages, and the nature of your claim. Four common types of injury claims after a car accident and their applicable statutes of limitations are:
- Car accident injury claims. In the vast majority of car accident claims, Florida law gives accident injury victims four years from the date of injury to bring a lawsuit against the at-fault party. Once the four-year statute of limitations expires, it’s unlikely a Florida court will allow you to bring suit and hear your case.
- Product liability claims. If your car accident was a result of a defective vehicle or defective car parts such as tires or brake pads, then you may have the right to file a product liability lawsuit to seek compensation for damages related to your accident and injury. You also have four years to bring suit in this situation, unless you are a surviving family member who lost a loved one in an accident caused by a defective product (see below).
- Claims against a government entity in Florida. Poorly maintained roads might lead to a car accident. Some examples include potholes, sinkholes, uncleared debris, fallen stop signs, dangerous construction zones, and malfunctioning traffic signals. Under Florida law, accident injury victims have three years to bring a lawsuit against a state, county, city, or other government entity responsible for road maintenance.
- Wrongful death claims. If you lost a loved one as a result of a car accident caused by another party, you might have the right to receive compensation for damages related to your loss, depending on your relationship with the deceased. Florida law entitles you to sue for damages such as pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and funeral expenses, as long as you file a suit against the allegedly liable part within two years of the event which led to the death of your loved one.
Exceptions to Florida Statutes of Limitations
Florida’s legal code explicitly provides statutes of limitations for almost every type of civil and criminal legal action. Although it is rare, some circumstances require the court to make an exception to limitations periods. Depending on the situation, a Florida court might extend the statute of limitations for you to file a personal injury lawsuit after a car accident. Some scenarios which might lead to an extension or cause the court to stop the statute of limitations clock include:
Unknown Location of the Named Defendant
When you bring a lawsuit against another party, serving them a court summons and other important documents can be a challenge if you cannot locate them. In some cases, the named defendant might leave the state after the car accident, making it difficult to serve papers. In other cases, the defendant might “disappear” to avoid getting served papers. In these situations, your attorney can help you petition the court for an extension to the statute of limitations.
Liable Party Uses a False Identity
Sometimes when car accidents occur, a driver who believes he or she might be responsible for the accident might give false information to you or the police to avoid criminal charges, lawsuits, being arrested for outstanding warrants, and a variety of other things. When deliberate misinformation plays into a car accident, the court might choose to stop the statute of limitations time clock until law enforcement, and/or an investigator, can locate the allegedly liable party and verify his or her true identity.
Perhaps it is stating the obvious that some car accident injuries are worse than others, but the severity of an injury can qualify accident injury victims for an extension on the statute of limitations for filing a claim. Car accidents, especially those which occur at high speeds can cause catastrophic injuries which can include a victim being in a coma, sustaining severe burns, or lying in a permanent vegetative state (PVS). If an attorney can prove your severe injury or condition prevented you, or another party acting on your behalf, from filing an injury claim, Florida law provides a seven year extension of the statute of limitations from the date of the accident which led to your debilitating injury.
Delayed Discovery of Injury
After a car accident, some victims do not realize the extent of their injury for some time after the accident. This is compounded by the fact that some injuries can cause long-term complications, but don’t present symptoms for weeks or months. Generally speaking, any statute of limitations starts from the date of accident or injury; however, Florida law maintains that a statute of limitations does not begin on an injury until the victim discovers the injury. Delayed discovery is not common in car accidents. Yet, delayed discovery can happen in car accidents, especially when young children are injured or when victims suffer a head injury.
When a severe car accident occurs, the force upon impact can indirectly or directly lead to a traumatic brain injury (TBI), from the jolt to the head or from something in the vehicle striking the head. Many TBIs are mild concussions which heal on their own in a few months without any long-term complications; however, even a mild TBI can create lifelong challenges for children whose brains aren’t developed until they are over 20 years old. Parents might miss symptoms or they won’t be apparent for months or years when their child misses one or more major developmental milestones.
Similarly, severe TBIs can also lead to delayed symptoms. Victims might experience challenges with memory, logical reasoning, sight, balance, and other senses. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for TBI victims to have difficulty with emotions, comprehension, understanding, communication, and they might even display aggression and other personality changes. Victims and doctors alike struggle to recognize and diagnose TBI symptoms, which can easily lead to a delayed discovery situation after a car accident.
Accident Victims Who Are Minors
If you have a new driver who was involved in a car accident or your child was an occupant in a car when you were involved in an accident, then you might have circumstances which warrant a Florida court extending the statute of limitations if your child suffered an injury. When you do not file a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of your minor child, he or she can choose to seek compensation for damages once they reach age 18. Every scenario is different and the specific details of the accident and your child’s case will impact the court’s decision to grant an extension. In these situations, you and/or your child need to consult with an experienced Florida car accident attorney to determine if your child might be eligible for a statute of limitations exception under Florida law.
Statutes of Repose for Florida Car Accident Injury Claims
Like a statute of limitations, a statute of repose places a time limit on taking legal action after suffering harm in a car accident. Statutes of repose set the absolute time limit an injured victim has to bring a lawsuit against another party who caused injury. If you have been involved in a car accident, it’s likely a statute of repose won’t apply to your situation, but some exceptions do exist. When a defective vehicle or defective auto part causes a car accident and accompanying injuries, Florida statutes of repose will apply to a product liability lawsuit against the relevant party.
Specifically, Florida law states that victims cannot bring suit for a defective product with an expected life of 10 years if the product caused harm more than 12 years after the original purchase date. For example, if a 15-year old car tire blew out while you were driving, you lost control of your car, got in an accident, and suffered injuries, you likely cannot sue the tire company. The statute of repose also bars actions related to known defects. Florida law does not allow you to sue any manufacturer for injuries caused by a defect which occurs after 12 years, even when a known recall or defect exists.
Don’t Let the Statute of Limitations Run out on Your Florida Car Accident Injury Claim
If you do not bring a lawsuit against the allegedly liable party within the appropriate time frame for your situation, Florida law prohibits you from seeking compensation for damages in most cases. The best way to ensure you don’t miss out on getting the compensation you deserve is by hiring an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.