It is always a good idea to file a car accident claim as soon as you can after the accident (but not before thoroughly investigating the claim). Evidence has a tendency to degrade over time — memories fade, physical evidence gets lost or deteriorates, etc. The hard deadline, however, is set by the Florida statute of limitations.
The statute of limitations imposes a deadline beyond which you cannot file a personal injury lawsuit. Nevertheless, it works as a deadline for agreeing to an out of court settlement as well. After all, why should a defendant or an insurance company agree to pay you compensation if you lack the power to force them to pay by winning a lawsuit against them?
The Personal Injury Statute of Limitations
In Florida, the general statute of limitations deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit, including a car accident lawsuit, is four years after the date of the accident that caused the injury. You don’t have to win the lawsuit by that day, you just have to have filed it with the court. The four-year deadline also applies to a lawsuit for property damage.
The Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
If the victim dies from his injuries, the victim’s personal injury claim is extinguished, but a wrongful death claim arises. Such a claim can be filed by the personal representative of his probate estate, and damages go to the victim’s estate as well as close family members. A wrongful death claim must be filed within two years of the date of death of the victim, even if the victim doesn’t die until some time after the accident.
You should do your best to either conclude a written settlement agreement or file a lawsuit by the statute of limitations deadline. Certain narrow exceptions exist, however, if:
- The victim suffered from a serious mental illness at the time of the accident. Even then, a lawsuit must be filed within seven years of the date of the accident.
- The defendant left Florida after the accident but before a lawsuit could be filed.
- The defendant evaded service of process (delivery of the Summons and Complaint to him) through the use of deception or fraud (by changing his name, for example).
- The victim did not discover the existence of the injury until some time after the accident. This failure must have been reasonable under the circumstances.
Unlike some states, in most cases no extension of time to file a claim is granted simply because the victim was a minor (under 18) at the time of the accident, because a parent or guardian can file a lawsuit on the minor’s behalf.
Once your case is filed
In many car accident cases, a lawsuit is filed for the primary purpose of obtaining leverage in private settlement negotiations. Remember, most car accident cases are settled out of court, and there is no formal limit on the amount of time you can take to win your case — merely filing it on time will beat the statute of limitations deadline.