Timing is Everything: When to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit

Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley
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Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley

Suffering through a personal injury can be a distressing experience. Aside from the injury itself, you may be facing medical bills that quickly become very expensive, as well as a loss of income, hospital, doctor visits and other medical appointments to which you may or may not be able to drive. You might also experience emotional stress and complete interruption of your regular daily routine.

Personal injury lawsuits exist to assist people who have been injured through no fault of their own. If you have suffered a personal injury, a Florida injury attorney at Searcy Denney can help. However, it is important to remember that, as discussed below, there is a limited amount of time to file your claim.

Important Things to Know About Florida Personal Injury Lawsuits

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 29.4 million emergency room visits and 39.5 million physician office visits for unintentional injuries each year in the U.S. If you have suffered a personal injury, you should know that:

  • There are two ways to obtain a favorable result. One way is to take your case to trial, and the other way is to settle your claim out of court. Your lawyer will help you decide whether dropping your claim altogether, settling, or taking your case to court is your best option.
  • Car accident victims who retain a personal injury lawyer typically recover three times more than those who handle their claims by themselves. This is because attorneys understand the value of claims and when and how to negotiate.
  • Insurance companies do not have your best interests in mind. An insurance adjuster’s job is to pay out your claim as cheaply as possible. You should never sign anything until you have consulted a Florida injury attorney.
  • To obtain the best result, it may take time. Trials can take months or even years, and settlements can happen at any time during this process. Your insurance company may try to use your anxiety against you unless you’re patient.
  • Perhaps most importantly, time is of the essence.

When to File Your Lawsuit

Timing is very important in any personal injury claim. Each state has a set amount of time during which you can file a claim. These rules are known as statutes of limitations. In Florida, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims based on negligence is four years. This means that if you haven’t filed a personal injury claim within four years of the accident, you lose your right to sue.

However, the statute of limitations is not the only timing factor to consider. Legal counsel can help you avoid costly mistakes from the beginning, such as failing to properly document your injuries and medical costs or giving recorded information to the insurance company. The sooner you contact a Florida injury attorney, the sooner you can properly begin the process of moving toward settlement or going to trial.

Even if you do not take your injury claim to trial, the filing deadline set by this law is critical to your position in settlement negotiations with the defendant and his/her insurance company. Furthermore, if the four-year statute of limitations deadline has passed, you obviously will have lost all your settlement leverage. After all, if you can no longer threaten a defendant with a lawsuit, there is no other viable threat that would motivate a defendant to settle.

Exceptions to Florida’s Statute of Limitations for Personal Injuries

Florida recognizes several factual scenarios that serve as exceptions to the Florida statute of limitations. These may include:

  • When an injured person has been legally determined to be “incapacitated” or subject to a temporary or permanent mental illness at the time of the underlying accident. This exception is limited by various other circumstances.
  • When the person who allegedly caused the injury (the defendant) has left Florida at some point after the underlying accident and before the lawsuit is filed.
  • When the accused individual has taken steps to conceal him or herself in Florida, or changed his or her name or identity, in order to prevent the lawsuit and summons “process” from being served.

Other Considerations That May Lengthen or Shorten the Statute of Limitations in Florida

There are other factors that may change the statute of limitations in Florida, including:

  • The Type of Case. Although they are considered civil injury cases, claims for medical malpractice, product liability, and wrongful death are subject to different statutes of limitations.
  • The Age of the Victim. Minors are often afforded additional time outside the standard statute of limitations to file claims. 
  • The Injury. There are situations where injuries or illnesses cannot be discovered until years after the injury occurred, such as certain types of cancer, in which the statute of limitations may be less stringent.
  • Product Liability. Victims injured by defective products typically have four years from the date of their accident/injury to file a claim. According to Florida Statute § 95.031, products are presumed to have limited “useful life,” which means injured consumers cannot bring product liability claims for products after that useful life period has passed.
  • Claims Against the Government.  Where victims have viable claims against the government or a public entity, such as injuries caused by public transportation, they may be subject to different rules and procedures than standard injury cases. They may also be subject to a shorter statute of limitations.
  • Sexual Abuse. In Florida, state law can provide an extended time limit for survivors to bring civil sexual abuse claims.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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