The basics of Florida laws that could affect a personal injury claim — time limits to file a lawsuit, caps on compensation, and more.
If you’re filing an insurance claim or lawsuit after an accident or
injury in Florida, you’ll need to be familiar with the different state laws that come into play. In this article, we’ll provide a snapshot of a few of these laws, including the Florida statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, shared fault rules, no-fault car insurance requirements, and more.
Deadlines for Filing an Injury Lawsuit in Florida
Like every other state, Florida has a statute on the books that sets a
deadline for the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit in civil
court against the person or business that might be legally at fault for
your injury. This law is called a statute of limitations.
Under Florida’s statute of limitations for personal injury cases, you have four years
from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in Florida’s civil
courts (this law can be found at Florida Statutes Annotated section
95.11(3)). If you don’t file your case within this time window, the court
will very likely refuse to hear it at all. In rare cases, you may not
“discover” that you actually suffered harm for some amount of time after
the incident that caused the injury, and in those instances the
lawsuit-filing window could be extended.
It’s important to note that the statute of limitations we’ve discussed here applies to most, but not all, Florida lawsuits seeking compensation for losses related to a physical injury. Like most states, Florida has a specific statute of limitations for lawsuits over injuries caused by medical malpractice, for example. Learn more about Florida medical malpractice laws.
Florida’s Comparative Negligence Law
In some cases, the person you are trying to hold liable for your
injuries may turn around and say that you’re actually to blame (at least
in part) — for causing the accident that led to your injuries, and/or
for making your injuries worse. If you do share some amount of fault
for your injuries, that can affect the amount of compensation you can
receive from other at-fault parties.
Florida follows a “pure comparative negligence rule” in cases like
these. Under this rule, the amount of compensation you’re entitled to
receive will be reduced by an amount that is equal to your percentage of
fault for the accident.
So, if you’re in a car accident where the other driver ran a red
light, but you were driving a few miles an hour above the posted speed
limit, you might share 10 percent of the blame for the accident, while
the other driver is 90 percent to blame. Let’s say your damages add up
to $5,000. Under Florida’s comparative negligence rule, your
compensation will be reduced to $4,500 (or the $5,000 total minus $500
which accounts for your share of fault.)
Courts in Florida are obligated to follow this rule in an injury
case, and if you’re dealing with an insurance adjuster outside the court
system, don’t be surprised if he or she raises the comparative negligence rule during settlement talks.
Florida No-Fault Car Insurance Laws
In car accident cases only, Florida follows a no-fault insurance system, which
means that after most traffic accidents, an injured person’s own
insurance policy (specifically, their “personal injury protection” coverage) will provide compensation for certain out-of-pocket losses like medical expenses and lost
income, no matter who was at fault for the accident.
You can’t hold the other driver liable after a car accident in
Florida (via a third-party insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit) unless the crash resulted in “serious injury” to you. So most minor
accidents will fall under the no-fault umbrella. But you may be able to
step outside of the no-fault system and file a liability claim against
an at-fault driver in Florida if, as a result of the accident, your claim meets the “serious injury” threshold. That means, as a result of the accident, you experienced:
- permanent injury
- significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement, or
- significant and permanent loss of a bodily function.
Obviously, these terms are a little vague, or at least open to interpretation. So it will be up for
negotiation as part of your claim whether certain injuries qualify under Florida’s “serious injury” threshold.
See No-Fault Car Accident Laws for more on how these claims work.
Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases
In many states, dog owners are
protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their
dog injures someone, if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous.
This is often called a “one bite” rule. But Fla. Stat. Ann. § 767.04 makes a dog owner liable “for damages suffered by persons bitten” by the owner’s dog, regardless of the animal’s past behavior, as long as the victim was lawfully on the property where the bite took place. Note that the victim’s own negligence can reduce the dog owner’s liability, however.
Damage Caps in Florida Injury Cases
Damage cap statutes set a limit on the amount of money that an
injured person can receive in certain kinds of cases, or for certain
types of losses. Most often, these laws limit the amount of non-economic damages (i.e.
“pain and suffering”) that an injured person can recover.
In terms of common personal injury cases like car accidents, slip and
fall injuries, and product defect claims, the most important Florida
law on damage caps pertains to punitive damages. For most injury cases, Florida limits punitive damages to three times
the amount of compensatory damages, or $500,000 whichever amount is greater.
This law can be found at Fla. Stat. Ann. section 768.73. It’s important to note that punitive damages are only available in a small percentage of injury cases. They’re meant to punish the wrongdoer for particularly dangerous or reprehensible behavior.
There are no other damage cap laws on the books in Florida when it
comes to standard personal injury cases. There is a Florida state that sets a strict limit on
non-economic damages like pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 766.118) but it was ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in a June 2017 decision.
More Information on Florida Personal Injury Laws
If you want to do a little legal research of your own on Florida’s
negligence and personal injury laws, you’ll find a lot of relevant
information in Florida Statutes Title XLV (Torts), and Chapter 768 (Negligence).