Legal claims do not last forever. Claims are only actionable for a limited period of time to ensure that the integrity of evidence is preserved and that defendants are not exposed to unexpected lawsuits many years after the precipitating event.
The statute of limitations sets a deadline by which the plaintiff (the victim) must file a lawsuit. If you do not file the lawsuit by the time the applicable statute of limitations period runs out, you will no longer be entitled to litigate your claim. It does not matter if the legitimacy of your claim is obvious. You must file your lawsuit before the deadline, or risk forfeiting it.
In Florida, the statute of limitations period for most standard personal injury claims is four years after the date of the accident. For personal injury claims brought against public entity defendants (e.g., local, state, or federal government, or agencies and departments thereof), the statute of limitations period is three years to put the entity on notice and four years to file the lawsuit.
Public Entity Defendants
Early on, it can be particularly difficult to assess whether your claims will involve a public entity defendant.
Suppose, for example, that you are involved in a motor vehicle pileup on a local expressway. Initially, fault may seem to lie with private individual drivers. After some investigation, however, it is revealed that the pileup was caused by a city bus driver who was negligently speeding and lost control.
This would likely make the city government a defendant, and as such, you would have three years to provide notice to the city government and four years from the incident to file suit.
Thus, it is good policy to seek the counsel of an experienced Fort Lauderdale injury lawyer as soon as possible, so that the nature of your claim can be fully and accurately assessed, and a lawsuit filed.
The Delayed Discovery Rule
Florida law provides limited recourse in the event that you discover your injuries some time after the incident which caused them. In personal injury cases involving product liability (e.g., a dangerous and defective product), the delayed discovery rule applies: if it was not reasonably possible for you to discover your injuries until some later time, then the statute of limitations period will not begin to run until you actually discovered your injuries. Unfortunately, the delayed discovery rule does not apply to standard personal injury claims – only those related to product liability.
For further clarity, consider the following.
Suppose that you are rear-ended by a drunk driver while stopped at a red light. Luckily, the accident was low speed, and thus you were not obviously injured at the time of the accident. After the accident, you visit your doctor to ensure that no injuries have occurred. A quick check-up by the doctor reveals no abnormalities.
A year later, however, you begin to develop some spinal issues. You revisit the doctor and find that the rear-end accident set off delayed spinal degeneration. It was not reasonably possible for you to discover this injury until later on, but because this is a standard personal injury case, the delayed discovery rule is not likely to apply. Florida courts have made it clear that the delayed discovery rule is meant to apply in a very limited manner, and only to product liability cases.
In the above example, if the car was defectively designed or manufactured such that it substantially caused the delayed spinal degeneration injury, then you might be able to take advantage of the delayed discovery rule.
The Statute of Repose
Even if your personal injury case involves product liability claims and your limitations period runs from the date of discovery, in Florida there is an ultimate statute of repose that sets a hard deadline for all product liability claims. The statute of repose deadline is twelve years after the product was first sold.
It is worth reiterating: the twelve-year statute of repose is a hard deadline for product liability actions in Florida. If your injury does not manifest itself until twelve years after the product was first sold on the market, the statute of repose will apply and your claim will no longer be actionable.
Personal injury lawsuits must be filed within the appropriate statute of limitations period. If you delay for too long, you may not be legally entitled to litigate your claim and recover for your injuries.
If you or someone you love has been injured as the result of someone else’s wrongful acts or omissions, seek legal guidance from a skilled personal injury lawyer at David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyer, P.A..