Personal Injury: Statute of Limitations in California

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Every state has laws that specify how long someone has to file a civil lawsuit, known as its statute of limitations. These laws can affect your ability to recover damages if not properly followed. So what is the statute of limitations for personal injury in California?

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What Is a Statute of Limitations?

As mentioned above, a statute of limitations tells potential plaintiffs how long they have to file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations begins to “run,” much like a timer, on the day that the incident at issue occurred. Each cause of action has its own statute of limitations. For example, a breach of contract lawsuit must be filed within four years from the date of the breach. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Suits?

For personal injury lawsuits, the California statute of limitations is two years from the date of the accident. If you are filing a wrongful death lawsuit, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the person’s death.

What If I Miss the Filing Deadline?

All civil claims have a time limit for both philosophical and logical reasons. Firstly, allowing an unlimited amount of time for a plaintiff to seek compensation isn’t fair to a potential defendant, who would walk around with a legal sword of Damocles hanging over them. It also ensures that evidence will be fresh and more complete.

If you file your lawsuit after the two years have passed, the defendant can submit a motion to dismiss your claim altogether. And unless your case falls under one of the very few exceptions, the judge will grant the motion and your recovery will be barred.

What Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations Exist for Personal Injury Claims?

Under certain circumstances, a California court can extend a statute of limitations or delay its running. This is called tolling, and it officially suspends the sands in the hourglass from falling. There are several common reasons that a judge will pause a statute of limitations in a personal injury case.

The Discovery Rule

The discovery rule applies when a plaintiff suffers an injury in an accident but the injury was hidden and could not be discovered at the time of the accident. Sometimes it takes weeks or months for an injury to manifest. and that can cut into the two year statute of limitations. If you did not know and had no reason to believe an injury occurred before that point, the court can extend the filing deadline, starting the countdown on the day you discovered the injury.

Defendant Flees the State

A California court may also extend a statute of limitations if the defendant flees the state after the accident but before the plaintiff can file their claim. This exception makes sense, as it does not allow the at-fault party to escape liability by disappearing and waiting for the statute of limitations to run. 

Mental Incapacity

If a potential plaintiff suffers from a mental incapacity—either as a result of the accident or otherwise—this also pauses the statute of limitations. After all, if the plaintiff can’t participate or approve legal claims filed for their benefit, the lawyers and insurance companies involved can’t move forward with the case.  

Minority

If a potential plaintiff is under 18 at the time of the accident, the statute of limitations pauses until they reach that age. They will then have two years from their 18th birthday to file a claim. At 18, the plaintiff becomes a legal adult, but more importantly, this is the minimum age a person can enter into a contract.

Personal Injury Claims Against Government Entities

Any personal injury claims against any California government agency on a city, county, or state level have a much shorter statute of limitations. Potential plaintiffs have only six months (180 days) to file a lawsuit after an accident.

Injured in an Accident? Wells Call Is Here to Help

Post-accident recovery is stressful, both physically and financially. At Wells Call, our team of accomplished personal injury attorneys is here to support you through the process. Since 1984, Wells Call has proudly represented clients throughout northern California from our offices in Fairfield, Napa, Richmond, Vallejo, Woodland, and Vacaville. Call (707) 426-5300 or fill out our online contact form for a free case evaluation today!

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