Statute of limitations law in Florida

Statute of Limitations in Florida

What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations in Florida is a law that restricts how long someone has to sue another person after a claim occurs and a legal cause of action arises. The statute of limitations is  20 years for judgment recovery and unpaid property taxes, but 5 years or less for all other causes of action. The purpose of the statute of limitations in Florida is to encourage people with a valid claim to timely file a lawsuit.

The legal tradition of a statute of limitations is old. Ancient legal systems had statutes of limitations. In ancient Greece, for example, the statute of limitations for debt was five years, just like it is now in Florida. The statute of limitations ensures that legal claims are brought while evidence is readily available and memories are still accurate.

The statute of limitations is found in section 95.11 of the Florida Statutes. The most important limitations in Florida include:

Type of CaseLimitations PeriodDescription
Recover on a judgment20 yearsThis is the amount of time a creditor has to collect on a monetary judgment. After 20 years, the creditor cannot collect on the judgment. However, the creditor may initiate an action to renew the judgment prior to the 20-year expiration, although this is rare.
Unpaid property tax20 yearsAfter 20 years, the county or city cannot take action to recover unpaid property taxes
Breach of a written contract5 yearsWritten contracts include credit card debt and other loan agreements. These debts are not collectable once five years have elapsed since the date of the first missed payment.
Foreclose a mortgage5 yearsA lender has 5 years from the date of the first missed payment (a default) to initiate a foreclosure action on the property.
Breach of oral contract4 yearsA person must prove the existence of the oral contract in order to file a claim.
Most claims concerning real property4 yearsThis time period refers to lawsuits regarding real estate other than foreclosures.
Negligence resulting in personal injury or property damage2 yearsA common type of personal injury lawsuit is one based on a car accident. The injured person has 2 years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit.
Fraud4 yearsA fraud claim must include specifics. A person cannot claim general fraudulent contact.
Trespassing4 yearsTrespassing occurs when someone enters another person’s land without permission.
Intentional torts4 yearsExamples of intentional torts include battery, assault, defamation, libel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The person who suffered damages has 4 years to file a lawsuit after the damages were incurred.
Most claims for unpaid wages or overtime2 yearsThese claims usually revolve around whether time spent doing certain types of activity counts as being on the job.
Defamation, libel, and slander2 yearsLibel is defamation that is written. Slander is defamation that is oral.
Medical malpractice2 yearsMedical malpractice involves making a claim against a doctor for their negligence in providing care.
Attorney malpractice2 yearsFor both medical malpractice and attorney malpractice, the law is complex as to when the 2 years begins to run. It is not necessarily when the malpractice occurred.
Wrongful death2 yearsWrongful death actions are typically brought by someone on behalf of the “estate” of the deceased person.
Enforcement of construction bond1 yearA creditor can enforce a construction bond by foreclosing on the property.
Specific performance on a contract1 yearSpecific performance means requiring a person to take a specific action. For example, requiring a person to sell property pursuant to a real estate contract.
Unpaid alimonyNoneA person can file a claim of unpaid alimony at any time.

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Statute of Limitations in Florida for Debt

The statute of limitations for debt in Florida is five years. A creditor has five years to sue you for the money you owe. Most debts are based on written agreements, and the statute of limitations period for contract actions is five years.

Florida law says the following about lawsuits based on a contractual debt:

Actions other than for recovery of real property shall be commenced . . . within five years: a legal or equitable action on a contract, obligation, or liability founded on a written instrument.

Section 95.11(2)(b), Fla. Stat.

Some people are unsure how long a debt collector can pursue them for old debt in Florida, or how long they can legally be chased for a debt in Florida. As stated above, the default answer is five years. There are exceptions in the statute for debts within a special category.

Reviewing the statute of limitations in Florida

When Does the Clock Start on the Statute of Limitations in Florida?

The Florida statute of limitations for consumer debt begins to run on the date that a payment is missed or the date on which the liability occurred. If a debtor misses a minimum credit card payment, the statute of limitations for that debt will start the day the missed payment was due.

Certain actions might pause the statute of limitations for debt collection. In Florida, making a partial payment on a contractual debt (like a credit card payment) will reset, or toll, the statute of limitations.

Florida Statute of Limitations for Debt Compared to Other States

The five-year statute of limitations for consumer debt in Florida is one of the lowest in the country. Many states have a six-year statute of limitations. Some states even set the statute of limitations at ten years for debt based on written contracts.

Furthermore, Florida’s asset protection laws are some of the strongest in the country, making it relatively difficult for a creditor to collect a judgment for contractual debt.

Protecting Assets During the Statute of Limitations Period

It is never too late to protect your assets from potential creditors. Even after you default on a debt agreement, you probably have options to protect your assets from the judgment based on the debt.

Certain legal tools can be effective even after a lawsuit is filed or even after a judgment is entered. Protecting assets makes it more difficult for a judgment creditor to collect, improving your leverage in negotiating a settlement.

The most common forms of collection after a lawsuit is filed and judgment entered are wage garnishments and bank account garnishments. A person anticipating a lawsuit and judgment should determine if they qualify for the head of family exemption from salary garnishment. Individuals who default on debt obligations should ensure that their financial accounts are owned as tenants by entireties (for married couples), or they can move their cash deposits to a bank account that cannot be garnished.

People with other asset categories, including real estate, LLC or corporate interests, or brokerage accounts, can use more sophisticated asset protection tools.

Early asset protection is most effective.  Rather than wait out the statute of limitations period hoping that a potential creditor does not file a lawsuit, a debtor should proactively protect their assets so that a lawsuit or judgment will be less damaging financially.

Note that asset protection is not about hiding money or hoping a creditor will not discover assets. Creditors have extensive post-judgment discovery tools, and they can make you testify under oath about the nature and location of your assets. Asset protection focuses on legal tools to structure your assets and income in a way that makes collection by a judgment creditor difficult.

How Long Is the Statute of Limitations for Criminal Cases?

The criminal statute of limitations in Florida depends on the severity of the offense. For first-degree misdemeanors, it is two years, and for second-degree misdemeanors, it is one year.

In Florida, first-degree felonies have a four-year statute of limitations, but most other felonies only have a three-year statute of limitations.

There are some exceptions. For example, felonies resulting in death have no statute of limitations.

FAQs About Statute of Limitations in Florida

What is the statute of limitations for credit card debt in Florida?

The statute of limitations for credit card debt in Florida is four years. Because debts based on open accounts, such as credit cards, have a statute of limitations of four years, the credit card issuer has four years from the date of a missed payment to file a lawsuit against you.

What’s the statute of limitations for medical debt in Florida?

The statute of limitations for medical debt in Florida is five years. Florida statutes do not provide a separate category for collection of medical debts. A hospital or other medical provider will have five years to file a lawsuit for unpaid medical bills starting from the date of the unpaid invoice or bill.

What is the statute of limitations for a car accident in Florida?

In Florida, the statute of limitations for personal injury based on a car accident is four years. This is shorter than debts based on a written contract. An injured person will have a full four years after the accident to file a lawsuit against you. However, most personal injury lawsuits based on car accidents are filed sooner because the evidence is fresher, and the claimants would rather reach an early settlement.

What happens if someone files a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has expired?

If you are sued for a claim that occurred beyond the statute of limitations period, you could file a motion to dismiss the claim. You will have to point out the applicable statute of limitations and show that the timeframe has expired.

Gideon Alper

About the Author

I’m an attorney who specializes in asset protection planning. I graduated with honors from Emory University Law School and have been practicing law for almost 15 years.

I have helped thousands of clients protect their assets from creditors. Before private practice, I represented the federal government while working for the IRS Office of Chief Counsel.