If you have a cause of action to file a lawsuit, you should know that you may have a limited amount of time to do so. This is called a statute of limitations, and a Florida lawyer can help you determine the time limit that applies to your case.

Why You Must Know the Statute of Limitations in Your Case

States impose the limits to prevent unreasonable delays in bringing an action. This can protect defendants and the court system from frivolous suits. But, if you are not careful, it can also cause you to lose your chance to file a legitimate suit.

Your time limit is based largely on the type of claim you have. But specific facts in your case can affect how the statute is applied.

If you file your case after the statute has run out, the defendant has a case to get it thrown out (dismissed). You will be ineligible to recover damages.

Statute of Limitations for Civil Actions

Each cause of action has its own statute of limitations. These are some of the common time limits in Florida:

  • Personal injury (negligence)—four years from injury
  • Destruction of personal property—four years
  • Wrongful death—two years from death
  • Fraud—four years
  • Professional malpractice—two years
  • Contracts—five years in the case of written contracts; four years for oral ones

In some cases, the discovery rule can extend these times. For example, for medical malpractice, you generally have two years from your injury to file. But if your injury was not immediately obvious, you have up to two years from discovery, with a maximum of four years from the act that caused your injury.

Statute of Limitations in Criminal Cases

Just like civil cases, most criminal cases have time limits, which usually begin when the crime occurs. Certain felonies, including a capital felony or one in which a death occurred, are not subject to time limits. Most others must be brought within one to four years, depending on the severity of the crime.

Tolling the Statute of Limitations

Tolling the statutes means stopping the clock for a specific reason and only restarting it when that reason no longer exists.

Some reasons Florida accepts for tolling include these:

  • The defendant is out of the state.
  • The defendant was in hiding and could not be served.
  • The victim is a minor.

These reasons may not apply in every suit, and in some cases, the statutes will only be tolled for a specific period of time. For example, a medical malpractice suit on behalf of a minor under age 8 must be brought either by the child's eighth birthday or within the standard two-year time limit, whichever is longer.

Statutes of Repose

Statutes of repose are related to statutes of limitations but are not quite the same.

This statute starts running at a specific event unrelated to your cause of action. For example, Florida statutes define the "expected useful life" of most products to be 10 years, and then limit your time to bring a product's liability suit to 12 years after the product was first sold, with very few exceptions.

You cannot sue once this time ends, even if your injury occurs after that.

Talking to an Attorney

Laws change often, so to be sure you are following current rules, it is a good idea to get legal help. Make sure you tell your attorney everything about your case. This will help build a strong case and possibly discover a reason for tolling the statutes if you are running out of time.