Florida Substantially Shortens the Statute of Limitations for Negligence Claims
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On March 24, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law one of the most significant tort reform bills in Florida history, HB 837. This new law makes sweeping changes to long-standing Florida civil tort law in numerous areas related to negligence, insurance bad faith and related rules of evidence, among others. This blog addresses one of the most significant aspects of the tort reform, which is that it cut the longstanding statute of limitations for negligence claims in Florida in half, from four years down to two years.
What is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a procedural law that sets a strict time limit on when a plaintiff must file a lawsuit on a claim after the plaintiff’s cause of action first accrues, or the claim will be barred. See WRH Mortgage, Inc. v. Butler, 684 So.2d 325 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996) (“In this regard, statutes of limitation establish the time period within which a cause of action must be commenced. The limitation period is directly related to the date on which the cause of action accrued.”). In other words, “a statute of limitations sets the outer limits for the commencement of litigation.” Plaza Ct., L.P. v. Baker-Chaput, 17 So. 3d 720, 728 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009).
A lawsuit filed after the statute of limitations has expired will be barred and no recovery will be allowed. See Fla. Stat. § 95.011 (“A civil action or proceeding … shall be barred unless begun within the time prescribed by this chapter.”). A statute of limitation “does not determine the underlying merits of the claim but merely cuts off the right to file suit on that claim.” Houck Corp. v. New River, Ltd., Pasco, 900 So. 2d 601, 603 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2005). Therefore, it is critical for plaintiffs to file a lawsuit on their claims before the statute of limitations expires, and for defendants to be keenly aware of the potential application of the statute of limitations in defending claims.
How Did the Negligence Statute of Limitations in Florida Change?
For decades prior to the recent tort reform, the statute of limitations on negligence causes of action in Florida had been four years from when the cause of action accrued. However, effective March 24, 2023, Fla. Stat. § 95.11, was amended to reduce the statute of limitations for negligence claims from four years down to only two years. Fla. Stat. § 95.11(4)(a) (2023). This generally means that a plaintiff that fails to file a lawsuit for negligence within two years of when the cause of action accrues, rather than four years, will be barred from bringing the suit under the new statute of limitations.
What Claims Does This Change Effect?
The change of the statute of limitations from four years to two years applies to general negligence claims. General negligence claims encompass the vast majority of personal injury claims due to negligence, including by automobile accidents, slip and fall, etc., and also includes negligence claims for property damage.
However, the new shorter statute of limitations only applies to negligence claims which accrue after the effective date of the new statute, which is March 24, 2023. See H.B. 837 (“The amendments made by this act to s. 95.11, Florida Statutes, apply to causes of action accruing after the effective date of this act.”). “A cause of action accrues when the last element constituting the cause of action occurs.” Fla. Stat. § 95.031(1). A negligence cause of action generally accrues when the plaintiff is injured or suffers damages due to the act or omission of the defendant. See Dep’t of Transp. v. Soldovere, 519 So.2d 616 (Fla. 1988) (“A cause of action for the negligence of another accrues at the time the injury is first inflicted.”).
Accordingly, the new shorter two-year statute of limitations should be applicable to all general negligence claims where the plaintiff first suffered the injury or damages due to the defendant’s negligent conduct after March 24, 2023. Negligence causes of action accruing prior to March 24, 2023, should be under the prior law’s four-year statute of limitations for negligence claims.
The reduction of Florida’s longstanding statute of limitations for negligence by half, from four years down to two years, is a major change affecting Florida tort law. Generally speaking, claimants suffering injury due to the alleged negligence of another person or entity after March 24, 2023, only have two years to bring a lawsuit to avoid the claim being barred by the statute of limitations. Both injured parties and defendants (and their insurers) need to be aware of this major change to Florida’s tort system that will have widespread effect on the timing of negligence claims going forward.