Florida law allows people to sue the negligent drivers and the insurance companies that represent them for car accident personal injury damages that exceed the personal injury protection (PIP) limits of the state’s no-fault insurance laws.

The state’s personal injury statute of limitations is four years. For car accident victims, this almost always means they will have four years from the date of a crash in which to file a lawsuit.

However, there may be reason to act more expeditiously. If the driver who was at-fault in the accident was killed in that crash, those injured may still pursue action against that driver and his/her insurance company through the driver’s estate. Once an estate is established by relatives and loved ones, they will be required by law to publish a “notice to creditors” that allows three months in which to file a claim against the estate for compensation, or 30 days from the time the notice is issued directly to those creditors. “Creditors” means everyone from credit card companies to personal injury victims.

The details of Florida law on this point are codified in F.S. 733.2121.

Those who do not file within this allotted time may have difficulty recovering damages, as the recent case of Locke v. Estate of Davis showed. This was an out-of-state car accident claim, occurring in Montana, so the rules differ slightly, but the same general principal applies.

The case arises out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred in 2011. Decedent/at fault driver was traveling in the opposite direction as plaintiff, lost control of her vehicle, veered into oncoming traffic and struck plaintiff’s vehicle head-on. At-fault driver was killed in the crash. Plaintiff sustained serious personal injuries.

Decedent was insured by a policy that allowed a maximum $100,000 payout per person. However, in any personal injury case, a judgment may be handed down that exceeds that amount, if the judge/juror decides in plaintiff’s favor.

A notice was issued by the estate of decedent several months after death, indicating any creditor claims had to be filed within four months. However, plaintiff did not file her claim until almost a year later. This was well within the state statute of limitations for such claims, but this fact became a major issue later in the case.

While plaintiff repeatedly agreed to settle the case with the insurer for policy limits, the insurer refused, though it did offer $16,300 to offset her medical bills.

The case went to trial, and jurors awarded plaintiff $400,000 – four times in excess of the policy limits – plus costs.

But she would not receive that much.

The estate filed a motion to amend the judgment, citing plaintiff’s delay in filing the case outside of that four-month window. Trial court denied this motion, and estate appealed (with insurer intervening). The Montana Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded.

It affirmed on the issue of insurer liability. The company had argued it couldn’t be held liable because it wasn’t a named party to the lawsuit. Court determined it was liable.

However, court reversed on the issue of damages. Because plaintiff did not file her claim with the estate within that four-month time frame, she was limited to the insurance policy limits.

This case reveals why it is so important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney in Fort Myers as soon as possible following an accident. There may be nuances of state statute and common law applicable to your case that could bar or significantly reduce your claim.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Locke v. Estate of Davis , May 26, 2015, Montana Supreme Court

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