If you've had your property damaged in Florida, you could be thinking about filing a lawsuit against the person you think is legally responsible for what happened. If so, it's important to understand Florida's statute of limitations for property damage claims, and a few related state laws.
In case you're not familiar with the term, a "statute of limitations" is a state law that limits how much time can pass until you effectively lose your right to file a lawsuit. Every state has passed these laws, and the time limits vary depending on the subject matter of the lawsuit.
In Florida, a four-year filing deadline applies to most lawsuits seeking the repair or replacement of damaged or destroyed property, whether it's:
Specifically, Florida Statutes section 95.11 says that a four-year time limit applies to the following kinds of civil lawsuits filed in the state's courts:
It's important to note that the four-year deadline we've discussed here applies any time you're asking a court to award you monetary compensation for damaged or destroyed property, whether that claim is part of a larger legal action or a standalone lawsuit.
For example, any injury claim "founded on negligence" (meaning any situation where another person's carelessness caused you harm) must be brought within two years in Florida. So, the specific claims in any lawsuit involving both personal injury and property damage (a car accident case for example) could be subject to different filing deadlines.
As we mentioned above, section 95.11 applies to most lawsuits over the "design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property." So, this standard four year deadline applies to a lawsuit over property damage resulting from a construction defect in Florida.
But exactly when the "clock" starts running depends on whether the problem was easily discoverable, or was hidden ("latent" in the language of the law). And there's an over-arching deadline (called a "statute of repose") that says most Florida construction defect lawsuits must be filed within seven years of the completion of the project, regardless of whether the problem was (or could reasonably have been) discovered.
This area of the law can get complicated, so it might make sense to talk to a Florida attorney if you think your property damage case involves a construction defect. Learn more:
If you try to file your Florida property damage lawsuit after the four-year deadline has passed, the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will almost certainly make a motion asking the court to dismiss the case. And, except in rare cases where an exemption from the deadline applies (more on these exceptions in the next section), the court will grant the dismissal.
If that happens, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. So, even if you're pretty sure your property damage case will reach a settlement, you still want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit if you need to.
In a Florida property damage lawsuit—and most other kinds of civil lawsuits, for that matter—a number of situations could pause ("toll" in legalese) or extend the lawsuit filing deadline set by the statute of limitations. These include:
Other exceptions may also apply to extend the Florida statute of limitations time limit, but they're too complex to cover in this article. (You can see them all listed at Florida Statutes section 95.051.)
Most Florida property damage lawsuits are filed in the state's county courts, which have statewide jurisdiction over most civil cases involving involving disputes over $50,000 or less. There's a Florida county court in each of the state's 67 counties. Chances are, you'll file your lawsuit in the county court that serves the area where the person you're suing lives, or where your property damage occurred.
If you're seeking more than $50,000 from the person you're trying to hold at fault for your property damage, you'll likely file your lawsuit in one of the 20 circuit courts in Florida. Get more details on the Florida circuit court system.
Yes. If you're not planning on asking for more than $8,000 from the at-fault party, you might consider filing your property damage case in small claims court, where the process is more streamlined and your case is likely to get resolved quicker. Get more details on small claims court in Florida.
It makes sense to handle a property damage claim yourself if the case is fairly straightforward. It can even be challenging to find a lawyer to take a run-of-the-mill property damage claim. But reaching out to a Florida attorney—even if only to discuss your options—might be a good idea if:
Get tips on finding the right lawyer for you and your case.