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Relate Back Rule Can Be Applied in Some Florida Injury Cases Where Statute of Limitations Has Expired

Florida law – specifically, F.S. 95.11(3) allows claims of damages for personal injury resulting from negligence (such as those for car accidents) must be filed within four years. This is the statute of limitations. The circumstances under which one can file an injury lawsuit after for years are extremely limited. 

However, there is one means by which a new legal claim for which the statute of limitations has expired could be raised: In an amended complaint, so long as they are based on the same facts set out in the original complaint. In fact, the Florida Supreme Court just ruled on this issue to clarify earlier this year. Previously, there had been two lines of interpretations on the “relate back doctrine” (Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 1.190) in the state’s appellate courts. Justices stated in the new opinion that they sided with the interpretation making it clear an amendment asserting a new cause of action can relate back to the original pleading – so long as the claim arises out of the same conduct, transaction or occurrence as the original. That ruling makes it less complicated to amend complaints and counterclaims.

The case that clarified the rule was actually a family business deal gone south – not a personal injury case – but the rule can be applied to injury cases all the same. Recently, the Arizona Supreme Court did consider an injury case involving the relate back doctrine. Although that ruling technically has no bearing on Florida cases, state high courts will often review sister court rulings in considering how to proceed when similar circumstances arise. 

According to Arizona court records, car accident in question occurred in October 2012. In that state, the statute of limitations on injury claims is two years. Just one day before that statute of limitations expired, plaintiff – representing herself – filed a lawsuit against the at-fault driver’s insurer. She alleged the insured caused the collision with negligence and that insurer was fully responsible for insured’s negligence, yet had intentionally delayed, postponed or otherwise disregarded the resolution, in some instances providing false information to plaintiff.

Insurer sought to dismiss original complaint, arguing plaintiff didn’t have a cause of action because there is no right of action against an insurance carrier for damages resulting from an accident with an insured. Plaintiff then hired an injury lawyer (something that may have averted this issue to begin with), who promptly filed an amended motion, removing the insurer as a defendant and instead naming the driver (as is proper in these cases).

Defendant then moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing it did not “relate back” under the state rules of civil procedure, and asserting plaintiff had made a mistake of law, not a mistake of fact because she had known all along who defendant driver was.

The trial court granted the dismissal. The appellate court reversed, however, finding the mistake was cognizable under the rule, as it was a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party. Plaintiff’s pro se (representing herself) status should not result in a different relation-back standard.

The state supreme court accepted review, finding the clarification on the relation back rule was one of statewide importance. The court found the amended complaint relates back to the original complaint and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Flynn v. Campbell, Sept. 22, 2017, Arizona Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Meeting Obligations Under Your Auto Insurance Policy, Sept. 19, 2017, West Palm Beach Car Accident Attorney Blog

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