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The “Relation Back” Doctrine in Florida Injury Cases

car8Plaintiffs must properly identify defendants prior to filing a lawsuit. While it is possible to amend a complaint to add a defendant at a later time, it is imperative to do so prior to the date that the statute of limitation expires. The statute of limitations is a window of time in which legal action must be taken. In the state of Florida, an individual has four years from the date of the accident to take legal action. Failure to identify a defendant properly within this time frame could lead to the plaintiff’s claim being barred altogether.

In Russ v. Williams, the plaintiff was injured in an automobile wreck. The plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant, claiming he was the owner and driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident. The defendant denied the accusations. Approximately one week after the statute of limitations had expired, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that his wife was the owner and driver of the car when the crash took place.

In response to this new information, the plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint in order to substitute the wife for the husband in the complaint. The defendant then filed a response opposing the motion, arguing that adding his wife was not permitted because she was an entirely new party and the statute of limitations had already expired. The plaintiff argued that, since the amended complaint would relate back to the original complaint, it was permissible. The trial court agreed with the plaintiff and allowed her to file the amended complaint.

Once the plaintiff amended the complaint, the wife alleged that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The plaintiff reasoned that the amended complaint did not prejudice the wife because it related back to the original complaint because the wife is sufficiently related to her husband through their marital status. Additionally, the plaintiff argued that the wife had sufficient notice that a lawsuit would be filed against her prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

The court granted the wife’s motion to dismiss, holding that the relation back doctrine did not apply. The court explained that the doctrine is inapplicable when it seeks to add a whole new defendant to the lawsuit after the statute of limitations has run. The only time a complaint will relate back is when the two separate parties have a sufficient “identity of interests” so that that the newly added party will not be prejudiced.

Typically, the identity of interests exception has been allowed when one corporate or business entity is substituted for another after the statute of limitations. The idea is that the defendant should be one and the same. Thus, the court usually looks at factors as whether the prior defendant and the new defendant share the same name, share bank accounts, have the same officers or staff, and more. Here, there was no such business relationship between the husband and the wife. Therefore, the relation back doctrine was inapplicable.

Automobile accident cases can be very complicated, which is why it is important to seek the help of a skilled Miami auto accident attorney. At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, we have years of experience and have helped many clients resolve their accident claims. To find out about your options, contact us online or call us today at 1-877-499-HURT (4878).

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The “Foreign Body” Instruction in Florida Medical Negligence Cases, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, April 15, 2015

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Duty of Care Owed to Trespassers in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, April 15, 2015