For most of us, auto insurance does not feel like an option. Our livelihoods depend on our ability to drive – and in order to drive, we must have auto insurance. Because of this, we put a lot of trust in our insurance company. We expect them to act in our best interests and uphold their end of the deal.

When that does not happen, you might want to consider a bad faith insurance claim. How long do you have to pursue this type of case?

Is it 4 years or 5 years?

For quite a long time, the Florida statute of limitations for an insurance bad faith claim was not clear. At the heart of the matter was a disagreement about whether such a claim was a tort action or a contract claim.

A 2018 decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit seems to have clarified things. The case involved a Florida man who sued his auto insurer after they declined to settle an injury claim, resulting in a $2.6 million jury award. A lower court had determined the man filed his bad faith claim too late – beyond the four-year statute of limitations outlined under tort law.

The man took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which determined that was the wrong statute of limitations. A bad faith claim falls under contract law, the decision said, rather than breach of fiduciary duty.

That means the statute of limitations in these cases is actually five years, according to the decision.

Better safe than sorry

While the decision from the Court of Appeals offered some clarification regarding the bad faith statute of limitations, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind: This is a very complex area of the law, and many insurance companies are quite large. If there is a legal gray area that might benefit the insurer, they have the ability to throw a lot of resources into fighting for it.

If you are thinking about filing a bad faith claim against your insurance company, consider speaking to an attorney sooner rather than later. The faster you can determine whether your case is viable, the better you can prepare going forward.

In the end, it’s usually much better to do something too early than too late.