Injury victims have the right to pursue compensation. Unless a request for compensation can be settled out of court, victims must make a formal claim. In some cases, they do so by filing a lawsuit. In other cases, including claims for work-related injuries, they file a claim with an administrative agency.

The law imposes strict deadlines for claiming compensation. The governing law that imposes the deadline depends on the nature of the claim. Some injury claims are governed by federal law and others by state law. 

Making a claim for compensation before the deadline arrives is vital. Injury victims almost always lose their right to be awarded compensation if they allow the deadline to pass. Victims may cheat themselves out of money to which they are entitled by sitting on their rights.

Determining the applicable deadline can be complicated. Law firms that represent injured victims of injuries at work and outside of work are well-positioned to give accurate advice about important deadlines. Since those deadlines can be quite short, injury victims and the families of deceased victims can protect their rights by seeking legal advice at their earliest opportunity.

Personal Injury

A personal injury is an injury to the person — that is, an injury to a person’s body or mind, as opposed to the person’s property. However, when an injury occurs at work or is work-related, compensation is usually determined by the law of workers’ compensation rather than personal injury law.

Injury victims file personal injury lawsuits against the person who is responsible for their injury. Unlike workers’ compensation cases, personal injury cases are heard in court. In Florida, personal injury lawsuits are usually filed in one of Florida’s circuit courts. A relatively small number of personal injury cases are filed in federal court. An out-of-state defendant may also be entitled to remove a state lawsuit from circuit court and require it to be heard in federal court.

The deadline for filing a lawsuit to recover compensation for a personal injury is determined by state law. Florida law almost always governs personal injuries that occur in Florida. The same deadline applies whether the lawsuit is filed in state or federal court.

The period during which a lawsuit can be filed to recover compensation is known as the “limitations period.” In most cases, the limitations period for an injury caused by negligence or intentional conduct in Florida is four years from the date of the act that caused the injury. A five-year limitations period may apply when the claim is made against an uninsured motorist.

When an injury results in death, however, Florida law shortens the limitations period to two years. In addition, a two-year limitations period usually applies when the injury is caused by medical malpractice.

In addition to limitations periods, certain “notice of claim” rules may require an injury victim to take prompt action. A claim made against the victim’s own insurance company (including a Florida “no fault” claim) must be made within a defined time period that could be as short as 14 days. Insurance policies may impose a deadline for giving notice of an uninsured motorist claim that is shorter than the limitations period. Claims against the government (such as an injury caused by a postal service driver to the operator of a municipal vehicle) may also be governed by a relatively short notice period.

Florida Workers’ Compensation

Most Florida employees who are injured at work or while working are covered by the state’s workers’ compensation law. That law requires them to give notice of their injury to their employer. In most cases, notice must be provided within 30 days of the injury. When an employee suffers from a work-related illness (such as a respiratory disease caused by exposure to toxic substances), the notice must be given within 30 days of the date on which the employee discovers that the disease is related to his or her employment.

The notice must describe the date on which the injury occurred, explain how it happened, and identify the employee’s symptoms. A Florida workers’ compensation lawyer can help injured employees prepare a notice that complies with state law. Missing the deadline will often result in the loss of the right to receive benefits.

The employer must provide the notice to the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company. The company will either pay appropriate benefits for the injury or will deny benefits.

When the insurer either denies benefits or refuses to pay all the benefits that are due, the injury victim can file a Petition for Benefits with the Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation. That petition must be filed within two years of the injury or one year of the employee’s last wage loss or medical payment, whichever is later. 

Federal Workers’ Compensation

Federal laws require employers to provide workers’ compensation benefits to Florida employees who work in certain occupations. The primary federal laws are related to each other and generally follow the same rules and procedures.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act applies to most workers who are employed as longshoremen, harbor workers, or in other non-government occupations that require work to be performed at ports, piers, or on land adjacent to the ocean and other navigable waters. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act covers employees who work on offshore drilling rigs or whose offshore work is associated with oil and gas drilling in the ocean. The Defense Base Act applies to employees who work overseas on military bases or for contractors who provide certain services to the US government.

Each law requires notice of an injury to be given to an employer within 30 days of its occurrence, or within 30 days of discovery that a health condition is work-related. Federal law is somewhat more forgiving of missed deadlines than Florida law, provided the employer is generally aware that an injury occurred at work.

Claims are filed with the federal Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. A claim must be filed within one year of the date of injury if the insurer has paid no benefits. If the insurer voluntarily paid partial benefits, a claim must be filed within one year of the last benefit payment.