Florida Personal Injury Laws and Liability Rules

A summary of Florida laws that could affect a personal injury case, including time limits to file a lawsuit and caps on compensation.

By , J.D.

If you're filing an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit after an accident in Florida, you'll need to be familiar with the different state laws that could 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 limit on 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 some situations, you might not "discover" that you actually suffered harm for some time after the incident that caused the injury, and in those instances the lawsuit-filing window could be extended. Other exceptions could alter the applicable deadline, and if you're filing an injury claim against the government (state or local) in Florida, you'll need to play by a distinct set of rules, which includes a shorter filing period. Talk to an attorney for the details.

It's important to note that the statute of limitations we've discussed here applies to most, but not all, Florida personal injury cases. 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" Rule

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 (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. (Get the basics on shared fault in personal injury cases.)

Florida follows a "pure comparative negligence rule" in cases like these. Under this rule, the amount of compensation ("damages") 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 $10,000. Under Florida's comparative negligence rule, your compensation will be reduced to $9,000 (or the $10,000 total minus the $1,000 that 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 negotiation.

Florida No-Fault Car Insurance Rules

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 bills and lost income, no matter who was at fault for the car accident. If you're injured as a passenger, you'd turn to the no-fault coverage of the driver whose car you were riding in.

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. In Florida 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. Learn more about no-fault car insurance and how it works.

"Strict" 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 Florida Statutes Annotated section 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 caps set a limit on the amount of money 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") 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 Florida Statutes Annotated 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. A state law setting a limit on non-economic damages like pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases (Florida Statutes Annotated section 766.118) was ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in June 2017.

More Details 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 Annotated Title XLV (Torts), and Florida Statutes Annotated Chapter 768 (Negligence).

For information that's tailored specifically to your situation, you might want to discuss your potential case with a personal injury lawyer.

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