How Long Do I Have to File a Motorcycle Accident Claim?
Sunshine, blue skies, and palm trees create the perfect backdrop for a motorcycle ride along Florida’s open roads. Motorcyclists share the highway with vacationers, commuters, and Sunday drivers and accidents occur when you least expect them. While car and truck drivers walk away with minor wounds, motorcyclists often sustain serious, catastrophic, or fatal injuries. As distracting as complications from injuries may be, however, you must remember that the statute of limitations clock is ticking.
When someone causes an accident and injures you, you have a limited timeframe to present your claim. Whether you sustain complex injuries or minor wounds, your damage recovery rights don’t last indefinitely. To make sure you don’t let your rights to compensation expire, consult with a motorcycle injury attorney today.
Motorcycle Accidents in Florida
Florida Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles Department records of registrations and driver’s license endorsements reflect a large population of motorcycle enthusiasts living in the state. Not to mention the millions vacationers and visitors who flock to the Sunshine State, or the hundreds of thousands of bikers who come down for Biketoberfest, Dania Beach Vintage Bike Show, and other large events.
Unfortunately, the state’s thriving resident and visiting biker populations mean motorcycle accidents will occur here often. All motorcyclists who travel our highways share a risk of injury and death. Florida’s 2017 Traffic Crash Facts publication provides the state’s most recent complete-year motorcycle accident injury statistics. 9,707 motorcycle accidents occurred in Florida during 2017. Among riders and their passengers, 8,417 sustained injuries. 552 motorcyclists and passengers were fatally injured.
If you were hurt in a collision while riding your motorcycle, you understand how easily serious injuries can occur. Motorcyclists and their passengers are vulnerable. Unlike other passenger vehicle and truck drivers, they have no active restraints and no physical protection should a crash occur.
When motorcyclists manage to survive a crash, they rarely escape injury. It is common for bikers (even those wearing properly-fitted helmets) to sustain traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, broken bones, severe lacerations, and burns in a wreck. These injuries often cause lengthy hospital stays, painful regimens of therapy, and years of rehabilitation. Still, some injuries and disabilities suffered in a motorcycle accident never heal.
The duration and strain of recovering from a motorcycle accident injury or the tragic loss of a loved one can also cause severe financial disruption in victims’ lives. Bikers injured in crashes often stay out of work for weeks or months, and even if they’re able to return their injuries may limit their job skills or hours, leading to reduced income. When a loved one dies in a bike crash, the loss of that person’s income may exact additional pain.
While struggling with the physical, emotional, and financial challenges of recovering from a motorcycle accident, the last thing many victims and their families feel like they have time for is retaining legal counsel. That’s understandable, but it is important to understand how critical it can be to act quickly. The sooner victims or their families speak with an experienced attorney, the better their chances of recovering the compensation they deserve for their pain and losses. Waiting too long, on the other hand, can lead to victims losing rights to damages altogether.
Florida’s Statute of Limitations
The “statute of limitations” is a legal concept that creates a specific window of time in which to take legal action. In personal injury matters such as motorcycle accident cases, statutes of limitations set the amount of time the victim or victim’s family has to take legal action for damages against a party with legal liability.
The statute of limitations is not as easy to apply as it sounds. Questions often arise about when the clock begins running, if and when it stops or is delayed, the difference between the limitations period for a child and an adult, and whether different legal claims invoke different expiration periods. Resolving all of these issues depends on the facts and circumstances of each particular case. Believe it or not, Florida’s statute of limitations law runs for twenty-three statutory sections, each one containing multiple subsections. It can get complicated!
The clock starts running under Florida’s statute of limitations law for an adult victim of a motorcycle accident the moment the injury occurs. (Attorneys refer to this as the “accrual” of the legal claim.) The clock runs out under Florida law four years after the date of accrual if the victim survived, but just two years if the victim died. However, if at some point before the accident happened a court or other authority determined the victim was legally incapacitated, then the victim or victim’s representative will have seven years to bring a claim.
Clear as mud so far? We thought so. And it only gets more complicated from there. Florida law contains so-called “tolling” provisions that stop the statute of limitations clock from running under certain circumstances. There are many of these rules, and they include:
- If the person to be sued is absent from the state and cannot be served with legal process elsewhere.
- If the person to be sued uses a false identity making it impossible to serve legal process.
- If an arbitration proceeding relating to a dispute in the motorcycle accident matter is pending.
Children and the Statute of Limitations
Children injured in a motorcycle accident may receive special treatment under Florida’s statute of limitations law, or they might not. A child who has parents or guardians who are free of conflicts of interest in acting on the child’s behalf is subject to the same limitations period as anyone else. But, if the child lacks a conflict-free parent or guardian who can take legal action on his behalf, then the statute of limitations clock is extended for up to seven years, under Florida law. A court may even appoint a guardian or similar representative for a child to make sure the child doesn’t lose legal rights.
Claims Against a Government Entity
Florida law treats claims against government entities differently than claims against private citizens. In addition to keeping track of the generally-applicable statute of limitations, a motorcycle accident victim who wants to sue a government entity must also serve a claim on the government entity itself within three years of the accrual of the claim (or within two years in a case of wrongful death). The government entity can deny the claim directly or by leaving it unaddressed for six months. In either case, an action against the entity can’t proceed until the claim has been denied (or the parties have settled, which ends the need for filing a claim altogether).
Correcting Misconceptions About the Statute of Limitations
Clients sometimes come to us misunderstanding the statute of limitations. Here are some common myths we can debunk:
The Statute of Limitations Doesn’t Set a “Total” Time Limit on a Case
A statute of limitations only applies to the period of time that can pass before a motorcycle accident victim begins a legal action. Once the legal action has started, the statute of limitations generally no longer has any application. Instead, how long a case lasts from that point forward depends on a range of variables, such as the court’s docket, the amount of evidence involved, how many parties there are, and whether settlement negotiations happen. A case can take as little as a month or two, or several years, depending on these factors.
One Case Might Have Many Statutes of Limitations
The statute of limitations has to do with what kind of a claim you make or who you bring a claim against. So, if you are making multiple claims, or if there are multiple parties you claim against, different statutes of limitations could apply to different parts of the case. This is why it is so important to have an experienced lawyer on your side to figure out when you must take legal action.
When a Statute of Limitations Expires, It’s All Over
Most of the time, a legal claim dies when the statute of limitations expires. There’s usually no fixing it. That, too, is why it is so important to act quickly. After a motorcycle accident, hiring an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible is the best way to ensure you preserve your legal rights to compensation you deserve.
Take Immediate Action to Avoid Statute of Limitations Issues
Speaking of misconceptions, victims of motorcycle accidents may think that because the statute of limitations on a legal claim is four years, they have plenty of time to wait before hiring an attorney and seeking damages. We can see why someone might think that, but it’s not correct.
As soon as they are able after sustaining injuries in a motorcycle accident or losing a loved one, victims of motorcycle accidents or their grieving families should connect with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can help them protect their legal rights to compensation. Waiting to do this can cause serious problems. Why? Because the more time that passes, the greater the likelihood that memories of specific facts about the accident will fade, evidence will go missing, and the willingness of opposing parties to settle will diminish. Speaking with an attorney as soon as possible will ensure that victims:
- Identify all potential defendants. To make the strongest legal claim possible on behalf of a motorcycle accident victim, an attorney needs as much time as possible to identify who to make the claim against. Potential defendants in motorcycle accident cases often include car and truck drivers, municipal road agencies, and manufacturers of motorcycles and aftermarket motorcycle parts.
- Identify witnesses. The testimony and recollections of people who witness a motorcycle accident can make or break a case for damages against any of the potential defendants listed above. An experienced personal injury lawyer needs time to find out who they are, speak with them, and make sure they understand how critical their testimony might be to justice being done for a motorcycle accident victim.
- Preserve evidence. Motorcycle accidents may not leave a large volume of evidence, but what evidence does survive may prove crucial to proving liability. This is especially the case when an attorney suspects a defect in a motorcycle or bike part caused an accident. But, the way the world works is that evidence has a way of disappearing over time. Owners or mechanics throw damaged bikes and bike parts away, not realizing their importance to a case. Accident scenes get cleaned up. A skilled attorney knows how to prevent the loss of evidence that can be crucial to a victim’s case.
- Place responsible parties and their insurers on notice. Depending upon the circumstances of a motorcycle accident, it may be necessary for victims and/or their lawyers to put opposing parties and their insurance companies “on notice” that they intend to file a claim for damages. As noted above, this is a requirement, for example, whenever a motorcycle accident victim may have a claim against a government entity, such as a county road department. Even when there are no legal obligations to put an opponent on notice, an attorney may decide there are practical reasons to do so. These may include ensuring the defendants set up a financial reserve against a potential damages award, maximizing the chances evidence is preserved, and jump-starting settlement negotiations.
Call the Dolman Law Group’s Florida Motorcycle Crash Attorneys Today
If you were seriously injured or lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident, you may be entitled to substantial compensation under Florida law if you act quickly. Time is of the essence when it comes to protecting your legal rights. Do not lose your ability to obtain compensation by waiting to hire an experienced personal injury attorney.
At Dolman Law Group, we’ve recovered millions in settlements and judgments for Florida residents and visitors injured in motorcycle accidents. Call us today at (727) 451-6900 or complete our online contact form to schedule free consultation to discuss your case and find out ways we may be able to help you take immediate action to recover the compensation you deserve before time runs out.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765