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Equitable Tolling Defense Based on a Spouse’s “Position of Control” Insufficient to Toll Statute of Limitations

Appellant/Spouse was injured when the raft she was occupying became airborne and ejected the occupants of the raft causing injury to both. Appellant’s raft was being pulled by a boat operated by Appellant’s father in law.  The raft was pulled by a boat in navigable waters and occupied by husband and wife prior to the injury producing event.

Appellant filed a negligence claim against the operator (father-in-law) of the boat approximately four-(4) years after the event. The boat operator filed a MSJ predicated upon application of the three-year statute of limitations provided by federal maritime law. (General maritime law applies to all personal injury and death cases occurring on the navigable waters of the United States superseding all state laws including Florida’s four-year statute of limitations.)

Appellant sought to avoid the consequences of filing her complaint outside the federal limitation by virtue of the doctrine of equitable tolling. Equitable tolling is a type of equitable defense, which focuses on the plaintiff’s “excusable ignorance” of the limitations period and on [the] lack of prejudice. To support this defense, the Appellant filed an affidavit that among other things averred the Appellant’s marital relationship was “controlled” by her husband, that he instructed her not to discuss the accident or to seek legal counsel or advice regarding the accident, and his “domineering control over” her precluded her from gaining the knowledge necessary to determine the existence of her claims.

The trial court granted summary judgment, and the First DCA affirmed. The appellant court noted that even taking these allegations as true, Appellant did not aver that her husband prevented her from pursuing her claim, i.e., filing suit.  Rather, Appellant only averred that her husband prevented her from finding out that she had a claim at all, and the fact that Appellant may not have been aware that the accident might be grounds for negligence had no bearing on when the statute of limitations commenced. Thus, her alleged ignorance of her legal rights could not act to delay accrual of the statute of limitations.


The opinion may be found in its entirety at:  https://edca.1dca.org/DCADocs/2015/2187/152187_DC05_11232015_101539_i.pdf



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