Under Florida law, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit is four years from the day that the injuries were incurred. If someone has been injured and feels that another party is responsible for the injuries in some way, they may file a lawsuit if they are unable to reach a settlement of some kind. The party who files the lawsuit, or the party on whose behalf a lawsuit is filed, is called the plaintiff. The party who the lawsuit is filed against is called the defendant.
Initially, the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney files a complaint in a court of law that outlines the nature of the dispute, why they feel the defendant is responsible, and requests that the court take a course of action that usually involves the awarding of financial damages. The court issues a summons advising the parties to be served of the court action. The summons, complaint and any other required documents are then served upon the defendant. Under Florida law, the defendant has 20 days to answer the complaint in writing and file it with the court. If a defendant fails to respond to the complaint in 20 days, the plaintiff wins the lawsuit by default. However, this seldom happens and most lawsuits are decided in a trial.
As both sides prepare for the trial, they gather as much information as they can from each other and from a wide range of sources in what is known as discovery. Discovery can occur in a variety of forms such as:
- Written questions called interrogatories that are answered under oath
- One side asking the other for copies of documents that are relevant to the lawsuit; this is called a Request for Production of Documents.
- A pretrial interrogation of the parties, witnesses, medical providers, and expert witnesses under oath; depositions are generally informal and held in the attorneys’ offices.
- Physical or mental medical examinations performed by a qualified professional of the opposite party.
As lawsuits often last two to five years or longer, most lawsuits end up being settled out of court as both sides are usually reluctant to take on the considerable effort and expense in the trial process. But if they are unable to reach a settlement, the case will proceed to trial where either a judge or jury will decide the outcome.
After members of the jury are selected and sworn in, both sides give their opening statements that tell their version of events. Next, the plaintiff might present evidence and call witnesses and ask them a series of questions under oath followed by questions from the defendant’s attorney. Following this, the defendant presents his or her evidence and calls witnesses for direct examination and then cross-examination by the plaintiff. After both sides have presented their cases, both sides present their closing arguments and the outcome of the lawsuit is decided by a judge or jury.
Please bear in mind that this description of the process of filing a lawsuit in Florida and having it go to trial is a simplification of what can be an extremely complex and drawn-out process. Even after a verdict in the lawsuit has been issued, the other party can issue an appeal and stretch the process out even longer. If you have any questions about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Florida, call experienced Florida personal injury attorney James O. Cunningham today to schedule a free consultation about your personal injury case.