What Is the Statute of Limitations for Personal injury Cases in California?

personal injury statute of limitations

Immediately after an injury, there are dozens of things to think about, both for the injured person and their family members alike.

To be sure, of immediate importance includes:

  • getting to the hospital and reviewing treatment options
  • coping with the reality of serious injuries and losses
  • figuring out who will watch kids or transport kids to school while a parent is hospitalized
  • account for lost wages
  • Deal with (potentially) multiple insurance companies
  • Ranging from health insurance to car insurance and more

With so much to manage, it makes sense that hiring a personal injury lawyer and filing a personal injury claim may not be the first thing on someone’s mind after being seriously injured or caring for a seriously injured family member.

But while it may be hard to do, devoting energy to the personal injury case process as soon as possible after an injury is of the utmost importance.

In fact, if too much time passes, a person’s right to bring forth a civil action for damages may be forfeited.

Here’s what you need to know about the statute of limitations for personal injury cases in California--

What Is a Statute of Limitations in California?

A statute of limitations refers to a limit on the amount of time that can pass before a type of action, civil or criminal, may be commenced.

The purpose of a statute of limitations is to protect defendants from being unfairly charged or held liable for things that happened years in the past, to ensure that evidence related to a case is relatively fresh and preserved, and to limit the number of claims.

The number of years that a party has to do something, like bring forth criminal charges or file a civil lawsuit, varies depending upon the context of the action.

Indeed, criminal and civil actions are governed by different limitations, as are the various types of civil actions.

For example, in California, the statute of limitations for the breach of a written contract is four years from the date of the breach. The time limit for personal injury cases in California, on the other hand, is two years from the date of injury.

Two Years Doesn’t Seem Like Very Long - Are There Any Exceptions?

24 months is not very long to bring forth a claim in the state of California, and what’s more, there are some situations where an injured person doesn’t even learn of their injuries until well after the accident has happened, making the two-year statute seem unjust.

To fix this problem, California has a “discovery rule,” which holds that the statute of limitations is either two years from the date of injury or one year from the date that the injury is discovered.

Some situations will “toll” the statute of limitations, which means that it stops for a period of time and then begins to run again. For example:

  1. If the person being sued is out of state, the statute of limitations will start to run when they return to California. The clock keeps going, even if they leave the state again. 
  2. If the person bringing suit is a minor, the statute of limitations will start to run when they reach the age of majority. 
  3. If the person bringing suit is incapacitated, the statute of limitations will start to run when, if ever, they become legally competent. 
  4. If the person bringing suit is in prison or facing criminal charges, the statute of limitations will start to run when they get out of prison, or two years after the incident, whichever comes first.

The “personal injury” statute of limitations applies to wrongful death cases, injury cases, assault and battery cases, wrongful or negligent act cases, and intentional infliction of emotional distress cases.

In cases that involve property damage, such as a car accident, the statute of limitations is three years.

Claims Against the Government

If the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims seems short, consider that this statute is only for claims that are filed against private citizens, private companies, and other private parties; the statute of limitations for claims against the government is even shorter.

A claim against a government agency must be filed within six months of the date of the incident that resulted in injuries. In some cases, this deadline is extended to one year.

To be sure, a claim against a government agency must be filed within six months (in some cases, this is extended to one year) of the date of the incident that resulted in injuries.

What Happens if the Statute of Limitations Expires?

If you think that you have a personal injury case, you do not want to wait until the statute of limitations expires to find out what will happen - if you breach the statute of limitations, it is more likely than not that a court will not agree to hear your case (extenuating circumstances excluded), and you will therefore be incapable of recovering a settlement award.

How Soon Should I Start the Personal Injury Claim Process?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you have up to two years to file your claim you should wait up until the California statute of limitations - personal injury, is about to run out.

In fact, just the opposite is true: you should initiate the claims process as soon as possible. This is because the personal injury claims process takes time.

It may take you days or weeks to find a lawyer; weeks or months for your case to be fully investigated and evaluated; weeks for an insurance company to respond to your request for payment; weeks or months to negotiate a claim and reach a settlement.

By the time all of this is concluded, you may be approaching two years - if a settlement isn’t reached and you need to file a lawsuit, there may not be much time if you’ve waited too long to take action.

Of course, starting the personal injury claims process early has other benefits outside of ensuring that you are filing your claim within the statute of limitations, too.

Evidence is more likely to be preserved early on, memories are fresher, witnesses’ statements have more clout, and you may reach a settlement earlier, meaning that you get paid earlier, too.

Call Our California Personal Injury Lawyers Today

If you have been in an accident in California, don’t wait until it’s too late to take action.

At the office of Starpoint LC, our experienced California personal injury lawyers know that you are dealing with a lot right now - we are here to help you and make the process easier, not more complicated.

For a free consultation with our legal team and help that you can trust, please call us today or send us a message. We are here to work for you.

Author Photo

Aidin Ghavimi

Aidin is a partner at Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, and focuses on personal injury and employment law cases in and around Southern California. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Loyola School of Law and his Bachelor’s from USC. Aidin’s primary goal is to bring justice to his clients and to ensure they are able to move on with their lives after a serious injury.

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