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California Statute of Limitations

Did you know that there is a limit on the amount of time you have to file an injury lawsuit in California? That’s right, if you are injured in a car or personal injury accident as a result of someone else’s negligence, you only have a set period of time to pursue damages for your injuries. 

This window of time is called a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations can be different for each matter in each state. In this article, we will focus mainly on the California personal injury statute of limitations. 

Personal injury refers to a wide variety of accident types, including but not limited to the following:

  • Car accidents
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Animal/dog bites
  • Industrial accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents
  • Premises liability
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Burn injuries
  • Motorcycle accidents

In general, excluding extraneous circumstances—medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, wrongful death—any injury sustained at the fault of another individual will be considered personal injury.

Personal injury law can be very complex and confusing. Navigating strict rules while dealing with traumatic injuries may be overwhelming for victims. Having a good understanding of California laws can help relieve some of that stress. And hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer can relieve you of the burden almost entirely. 

Why Does the Statute of Limitations Matter?

From a systematic perspective, the idea of a statute of limitations is important because it keeps a case from going ‘stale.’ If too much time passes, the evidence and witnesses for a case become near impossible to locate. People involved in the accident may have a difficult time remembering key details and others may move or change contact information. 

Additionally, a statute of limitations reinforces the idea that if there was real harm done, the plaintiff would have filed for damages sooner. This way somebody cannot just go through their history if they fall on hard times and pursue damages from an undeserving entity to get back on their feet. 

The CA statute of limitations on personal injury ensures that victims act quickly and effectively after an accident. It also prevents surprise lawsuits based on long ago events that an unsuspecting defendant may be unaware of. 

From the viewpoint of the victim, the California statute of limitations for personal injury matters because it functions as a deadline to bring action. It does not matter how egregious the negligent actions of the liable party were, if the statute of limitations expires before any claim is made, there will likely be no consequences. 

For more information on personal injury cases in California, check out our Personal Injury FAQs page. 

California Statute of Limitation Types

Below are the time periods in which a victim may bring action after an accident occurs in California.

  • Personal injury: 2 years
  • False imprisonment: 1 year
  • Libel/slander: 1 year
  • Fraud: 3 years
  • Property damage statute of limitations in California: 3 years
  • Legal malpractice: 1 year from discovery, with a max of 4 years from the mistake
  • Medical malpractice: 1 year from discovery, with a max of 3 years if aware of injury
  • Veterinary malpractice: 1 year if animal is injured or dies
  • Trespassing: 3 years
  • Rent collections: 4 years
  • California breach of contract statute of limitations: Written contracts have a 4-year statute and oral contracts have a 2-year statute
  • Debt collection on account: 4 years
  • Judgment enforcement: 10 years

Note that these limitations can vary from state to state.

What Happens After the Statute of Limitations Expires?

Even after the statute of limitations has expired you can file a personal injury lawsuit. However, the chances of your lawsuit succeeding are very low. 

Expiration is a valid defense to have the case dismissed from court. Aside from a few key exceptions mentioned in California state laws, there’s nothing you can do to have your lawsuit approved after the statute of limitations has passed. 

The law also prevents you from pursuing settlements in personal injury cases. After the two year statute has passed, the defendant will not be pressured to pay you.

Exceptions to the California Statute of Limitations

The most common exception to the statute of limitations is delayed discovery. This occurs when the victim of a personal injury doesn’t find out right away that they are injured or that their injury was caused by someone else’s negligence. In this case, your statute of limitations would begin when you become aware of the negligence or realize your injury. 

For example, if you slip and fall but do not realize that you have lasting neck stiffness until a couple of months after your fall, your statute of limitations will start from the day that you realize you were injured. 

Similarly, if you recognize you have neck stiffness right away, but find out three months later that you fell because the company owner failed to follow regulations, your statute will begin from that later date.

The next exception is an extension that occurs if the defendant leaves the state before you file your lawsuit. If they are out of the state, you can’t serve them, so the lawsuit cannot proceed. The statute of limitations will be paused while the would-be defendant is outside of California. This way the lawsuit can proceed normally when they return to the state. The defendant will likely also face additional legal problems when they come back to California.

An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to spot the possibility of extensions as your case begins. 

How Is the Statute of Limitations Different When Suing a Government Entity?

There are different rules surrounding personal injury claims against a government entity. Not only does your injury need to be a result of the government entity’s negligence, but your lawsuit must also follow a specific order. 

With other personal injury cases, a liable party can be held accountable for accidents that are their fault. If their dog bites you, if their car malfunctions, or if you are injured on their property, you may be able to pursue damages. But when suing a government entity, gross negligence must be the direct cause of your injuries. 

Filing against a government entity is also different from the standard steps of a personal injury lawsuit. You are required to file an administrative claim before you file a government personal injury lawsuit. This claim must be filed within six months of your physical injury. The entity will then have 45 days to respond to your administrative claim. 

If they deny your claim, you can still file a lawsuit, but you must do so within six months of the denial. If the government entity does not respond at all, you are expected to file a lawsuit within the regular statute of limitations—two years from the date you were injured. 

All in all, an injury caused by a government entity will require more action in a quicker fashion. So don’t hesitate to reach out to an experienced lawyer for legal assistance. 

Contact Chain | Cohn | Clark for Legal Assistance

Our trusted Bakersfield injury law firm has been representing individuals like you and those around you for decades. Primarily handling cases in Kern County and surrounding areas, we have seen a wide variety of personal injury claims against defendants both big and small. 

We have the personnel and connections to help you through any lawsuit and ensure that you operate within the proper California statute of limitations. 

Our Bakersfield injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Clark can provide legal advice for handling time constraints and additional exceptions. Contact our firm for a free case evaluation.

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