Understanding Florida Time Limitations and Florida’s Recent Changes Impacting Construction Claims

Statutes of Limitation

A statute of limitation is the period in which a person may file a lawsuit arising from a certain event.  One of the primary purposes of a statute of limitations is to “protect defendants from unfair surprises and stale claims.”[1]


The statute of limitations begins to run from the time the cause of action accrues.[2]  The cause of action accrues when the last element constituting the cause of action occurs.[3]


In Florida, the statutes of limitation are found at Fla. Stat. § 95.11. Some common claims include:

  1. Actions founded on a written contract – 5 years
  2. Actions to foreclose a mortgage – 5 years
  • Negligence actions, such as a motor vehicle accident – 4 years
  1. Actions founded on the design, planning, or construction of improvements to real property – 4 years from the date the party knew or should have known of the defect
  2. Actions arising from fraud – 4 years
  3. Actions for intentional torts, such as assault or battery – 4 years
  • Medical malpractice – 2 years
  • Wrongful death – 2 years


The statute of limitations is often strictly construed.  However, there are several exceptions to this rule.[4]



“Tolling” is “suspending the running of the statute of limitations time clock until the identified condition is settled.”[5]  Florida law provides several statutory reasons for “tolling” the statute of limitations.  Under Fla. Stat. § 95.051, a few of those reasons include: (a) the potential defendant’s absence from the state; (b)(c) the potential defendant’s use of a false name or concealment to avoid service of process; or (f) the payment of any part of the principal or interest of any obligation or liability founded on a written instrument.


Equitable Estoppel

The doctrine of equitable estoppel applies when one party’s actions have “induced another into forbearing suit within the applicable limitations period.”  As has been described by the Florida Supreme Court, “equitable estoppel is based on principles of fair play and essential justice and arises when one party lulls another party into a disadvantageous legal position.”[6]  Stated differently, “the doctrine of equitable estoppel is applicable in all cases where one, by word, act, or conduct, willfully caused another to believe in the existence of a certain state of things, and thereby induces him to act on this belief injuriously to himself…”.[7]


In essence, a person or party cannot coerce an injured party into delaying filing suit and then benefit from the statute of limitations defense.


Delayed Discovery

“The delayed discovery doctrine generally provides that a cause of action does not accrue until the plaintiff either knows or reasonably knows of the tortious act giving rise to the cause of action.”[8]  The Florida Supreme Court has held that the delayed discovery rule applies in “cases of fraud, products liability, professional and medical malpractice, and intentional torts based on abuse.”[9]


In other words, under “delayed discovery”, time does not begin to run as normal when the last element occurs.  Instead, time begins to run from when the defendant knew or should have reasonably known of the tortious act.


For delayed discovery of fraud, the rule has been codified into law by Fla. Stat. § 95.031(2).


Fraudulent Concealment

Fraudulent concealment is when a potential defendant takes action to keep their improper conduct from being discovered.[10]  Generally, to invoke this rule, a party must show that the defendant successfully concealed the cause of action and committed fraudulent mean to achieve the concealment.[11]



In Florida, the statute of limitations defense is an affirmative defense which is considered waived unless the party asserting the defense pleads it.[12]  This means that if you believe a lawsuit against you has been filed beyond the applicable time, you must assert the statute of limitation defense when you respond to the complaint.  A party can also waive the defense by contractual agreement.[13]


Statutes of Repose

In contrast to statutes of limitation, a statute of repose is definitive time which cuts off liability.  A statute of repose “not only bars enforcement of an accrued cause of action but may also prevent the accrual of a cause of action where final element necessary for its creation occurs beyond the time period established by the statute.”[14]


In some ways, the statute of repose can give parties peace of mind in know that, after a certain time, they have a right “to be free from liability.”[15]  In contrast to the various exceptions to the statute of limitations, this is so even when there are circumstances which might make the cause of action difficult to discover.


Recent Changes to Time Limitations Applied to Construction Claims
In April of this year, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law which reduces the statute of repose for cases related to the improvement of real property and construction thereon.  Before the new law, the statute of repose was ten years, and ran from the latest of a litany of events.  Now, under the new law, an aggrieved party has only seven years.  Given ambiguities and arguments regarding the former triggering events, the legislature has now expressly codified that the statute of repose timeline runs from the earlier of the (i) date of issuance of a temporary certificate of occupancy, a regular certificate of occupancy, or a certificate of completion, or (ii) the date of abandonment of a project if construction is not completed.  The changes to the law are intended to have the effect of eliminating stale claims and ambiguity as to when the time for filing suit expires.


It is important that parties, both plaintiffs and defendants alike, know how to apply the appropriate statutes of limitations or repose to their legal matters. MLG has skilled litigation lawyers with experience in civil litigation and construction law who are available to help you evaluate your claim. Learn more by scheduling a consultation today! 


[1] Major League Baseball v. Morsani, 790 So. 2d 1071 (Fla. 2001).

[2] Fla. Stat. § 95.031.

[3] Fla. Stat. § 95.031(1).

[4] Hess v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 175 So. 3d 687, 692–93 (Fla. 2015).

[5] Hankey v. Yarian, 755 So. 2d 93, 96 (Fla. 2000).

[6] Morsani, 790 So. 2d at 1076.

[7] State ex rel. Watson v. Gray, 48 So. 2d 84, 87-88 (Fla. 1950).

[8] R.R. v. New Life Community Church of CMA, Inc., 303 So. 3d 916, 920 (Fla. 2020).

[9] Davis v. Monahan, 832 So. 2d 708 (Fla. 2002).

[10] W. Brook Isles Partner’s 1, LLC v. Com. Land Title Ins. Co., 163 So. 3d 635, 639 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015).

[11] Id.

[12] Pritchett v. Kerr, 354 So. 2d 972 (Fla. 1st DCA 1978); Aboandandolo v. Vonella, 88 So. 2d 282 (Fla. 1956).

[13] Pritchett, 354 So. 2d 972 at 973.

[14] Am. Bankers Life Assur. Co. of Fla. V. 2275 W. Corp., 905 So. 2d 189, 191-92 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005).

[15] Id.

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