Frequently Asked Questions - What is the Statute of Limitations on Slip and Falls?
The statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum period of time in which a lawsuit must be filed. The statute of limitations will vary based on the type of claim. The statute of limitations for the same claim or crime will also vary from state to state. If a lawsuit is not filed within the period allotted by the statute of limitations the right to file a lawsuit may be lost forever. As such, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to ensure a claim for injuries suffered as a result of a slip and fall injury is not forever barred. Florida Statutes section 95.11(3)(a) sets forth the statute of limitations for the majority of personal injury claims including slip and fall lawsuits. The statute states that an action founded on negligence must be commenced within four years.
The concept of a statute of limitations to many seems to contradict the pursuit of justice. Why should the victim of a civil or criminal wrong be unable to bring a claim against the wrongdoer? There are several reasons why the statute of limitations can be important to the legal system and society as a whole.
First, the statute of limitations creates a sense of finality or certainty. The statute of limitations forces the aggrieved party to assert their claim against the wrongdoer in a timely manner or forever lose the chance to do so. If the statute of limitations did not exist, one party could indefinitely threaten to bring a lawsuit against another individual for a real or imagined harm. The threat of litigation could go on for years and the potential defendant would have no recourse but to sit and wait.
Additionally, the statute of limitations works to minimize the deterioration of evidence that occurs over time. The statute of limitations balances the plaintiff’s right to justice with the defendant’s right to be treated fairly by the judicial system. The statute of limitations works to prevent the deterioration or loss of evidence and therefore promotes accurate and fair adjudication of claims. By establishing a time limit in which a claim must be presented to the court, the judicial system accomplishes the goal of most accurately adjudicating claims. For example, witness testimony has not diminished due to the passage of time and can be more accurately recalled. Additionally, photographic or video evidence is more likely to be available and not lost or destroyed. This serves the added function of helping to prevent fraudulent claims. Moreover, by preventing the deterioration of evidence the statute of limitations works to reduce the cost of litigating claims. If a claim never expired, lawsuits could be filed due to an event that happened decades in the past. In such an instance, it would be far more costly to litigate the claim and perform basic discovery. Witnesses would need to be tracked down if they are still alive, documents and other evidence would also need to be searched for and made available for trial. In contrast, by requiring claims to be pursued shortly after the cause of action arises, the evidence, in theory, is more readily available and lest costly and time consuming to obtain.
Third, the statute of limitations also reduces the number of claims that are litigated. If a claim never expired, certainly some percentage of claims that have previously been barred due to the passage of the statute of limitations would be filed. Similarly, the statute of limitations may reduce the number of frivolous claims that are filed. Theoretically, a claim that is likely to prevail on its merits would be filed sooner rather than later. In contrast, a plaintiff with an inconsequential or weak claim may be more likely to delay filing a lawsuit. Additionally, the statute of limitations acts to reduce the number of claims filed that are disfavored by citizens or law-making bodies. If the legislature reduces the statute of limitations for a specific claim from two years down to one, it will reduce the number of claims that are filed.
There are certainly drawbacks to limiting the time in which a lawsuit must be filed by enacting a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations has previously, and will continue, to prevent the adjudication of valid claims. Fortunately, the legislature determines the statute of limitations for claims and can reduce or increase the time in which a lawsuit can be filed. Many violent felony crimes, such as murder, do not have a statute of limitations.
As mentioned previously, in Florida the statute of limitations for a negligence claim, such as a slip and fall, is four years. Failing to file a lawsuit for a slip and fall within four years means it will most likely be forever barred. Although a plaintiff has four years to bring a slip and fall lawsuit, an attorney should be consulted as soon as possible after sustaining an injury to build the strength of the claim. Slip and fall injuries should be examined by medical professionals as soon as possible. Additionally, evidence needs to be gathered while it is readily available. Often times, the cause of a slip and fall injury is remedied by the property owner shortly after the accident occurs. Therefore, the hazard needs to be documented as soon as possible or it may be impossible to do so at a later time. Any witnesses to a slip and fall injury should be contacted as soon as possible too. At a minimum, contact information should be obtained so the witnesses can be reached at a later date in the event his or her testimony is needed. An experienced slip and fall attorney can gather necessary evidence and witness testimony while it is still easily obtainable to maximize the client’s chances of bringing a successful claim. Failing to immediately pursue a slip and fall claim, however, will not prevent the injured party from bringing a claim in the future as long as suit is filed within the statute of limitations. Often times someone injured due to a slip and fall does not know the seriousness of the injury fort weeks or months afterwards. However, as soon as an injury is apparent, consulting an experienced attorney will ensure the claim is prepared for suit well before the statute of limitations.