The adage “He who hesitates is lost” is particularly true in the world of civil litigation, where statutes of limitations dictate how much time you have to take legal action after an injury accident. Once that time is up, in most cases you are forever barred from filing a claim for damages related to your injury.
Each state has its own collection of statutes of limitations. In Florida, the timeframes most commonly encountered include:
- Medical malpractice — two years from the date of injury
- Personal injury — four years from the date of injury
- Wrongful death — two years from the date of death
- Product liability — four years from the date of injury
- Damage to personal property — four years
- Written contracts — five years
- Oral contracts — four years
There are some exceptions. For instance, in the case of medical malpractice causing injury to a child younger than 8, legal action must be taken by the parents or guardians before the child’s eighth birthday or within the limitations stated above, whichever is greater.
Another exception involves the “discovery rule.” In some instances, the law acknowledges that it may some injuries a long time to manifest; i.e., to be discoverable. For example, a patient may take a prescribed drug for years before discovering that it has caused harm. In those cases, the statute of limitations begins to run at the time the plaintiff knew or reasonably should have known of the injury.
Tolling of the Statute of Limitations can also enable claims filed beyond the prescribed period if it can be proven that something has “tolled” or stopped the statute of limitations period from running. Usually this includes minority of the injured party, mental incompetence of the injured party, and the bankruptcy of the defendant.
The best advice is: Do not wait. If you believe you may be entitled to compensation for an injury, consult with a personal injury attorney right away — or your window of opportunity may close before you know it.