In most cases, victims who are injured by the negligence of another are diligent about pursuing a claim for damages to help them during their difficult post-injury period. At the very least, they are quick to ask a qualified attorney if they have a claim. This is why in most cases, the legal time limits to bring a claim are not an issue—these cases are quickly pursued already.
But every now and then there can be a delay for a number of reasons. Many victims may not realize that there are time periods, that if not met, could forever bar their ability to recover. And if they search the internet for ‘negligence’ and ‘Florida’ and ‘statute of limitations,’ they will come up with a four-year time period, and figure they have plenty of time.
What they may not know is that the particular unique nature of their case may have different time periods. One kind of case involves suing an uninsured motorist (UM) insurance carrier.
What is Uninsured Motorist Coverage?
UM insurance is insurance that is taken out to protect you from the negligence of other drivers who may be unknown, uninsured, or underinsured. For example, if you are injured from a hit and run driver, and the other driver is never found, your UM carrier will stand in the shoes of the missing, negligent driver. You will sue your own UM policy carrier, as if they were that unknown driver.
UM can step in if someone injures you who is known, but who has no insurance. It is a security policy to make sure that you are not left without reparation because of the many people who travel illegally on our roads with no insurance.
UM can even help you if you are injured by a driver who is known, and who has insurance, if they do not have sufficient insurance. If you suffer an injury worth, for example, $100,000, and the other driver only has $10,000 worth of insurance, you can sue your UM carrier to make up the difference.
Time Limits on UM Cases
Auto negligence lawsuits in Florida have a four-year statute of limitations. A lawsuit for negligence must be filed in that period, or the right to recover is forever lost. But a lawsuit against a UM carries is really a contractual action; you are suing your UM carrier to recover benefits due to you under your insurance contract.
Contract actions in Florida have a five-year limitations period. So you actually get more time to sue your UM carrier than you get to sue other third parties.
This sounds pretty generous. But there are potential pitfalls. First, any contractual limitations period will override the legal time limits. If your UM policy has a shorter time limit to bring a claim, the court will enforce that time limit, even if it is shorter than five years.
Many policies also have exclusions that allow the carrier to refuse you any benefits, if you let the statute of limitations period against the negligent third party expire. So, for example, if you sue your UM carrier four and a half years after an accident, after your right to sue the negligent party has expired, you are technically still within the five-year time period allowed by Florida law to sue your UM. But if your UM policy has an exclusion in cases where you allow a claim against the negligent party to lapse, your UM could still legally deny you any benefits.
Out of state drivers also need to be wary. Many people purchase auto policies out of state, and then drive here. Florida law will adopt the statute of the home state, and that state may have a much shorter statute of limitations period.
Approvals May Be Needed
Although not a limitation based on time, you can still be barred from obtaining UM benefits if you do not get their permission to settle with the negligent third party. Using our example above, let’s say you have an injury worth $100,000. You want to settle with the negligent driver for $10,000 and go after your UM for the rest. Before you take the $10,000 from that negligent driver, you must get permission from your UM carrier.
Remember that in many cases, you may not even know there is a UM claim until some time goes by. For example, a “minor” injury at first, which does not require you utilize your UM benefits, may end up being major a year later when you have not recovered and need surgery. If you file a lawsuit against the negligent driver, and that driver tries to pin liability on an unknown or identified driver, you may only realize then, years after the actual accident, that you need your UM to step in the shoes of a phantom driver.
There are even situations where victims sue drivers with sufficient insurance policies, only to find out later that the driver’s policy is refusing to cover the claim because the driver did something to violate his or her policy. At that point, the victims need their UM carrier to step in, but that could be years after the actual accident.
That is why in any auto accident, it is best to get legal help as fast as possible, to identify possible negligent parties, and the amount and source of any available insurance. Even just a small delay in the beginning could cut off a large source of needed recovery for you later on.
Do not wait if you are injured in a car accident. Let experienced injury attorneys investigate your claim and make sure all possible claims are explored and preserved. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your case.