Understanding the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims in California

Understanding the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Cases in California

The statute of limitations is a critical component of a legal claim.  In this blog post, we’ll focus on the statute of limitations for personal injury claims in California. 

  1. The Basics – What does it mean?

The statute of limitations is the legal time limit you have to file a lawsuit for a claim.  The time limit can vary depending on the type of claim. For example, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim is generally different from the statute of limitations for filing a breach of contract claim.

The easiest way to understand the statute of limitations is to think of it as a countdown timer.  The timer generally starts ticking on the date of the incident or upon the discovery of the wrong giving rise to the claim.  Once the timer hits zero, you normally lose the ability to pursue your legal claim and seek damages.  For that reason, it is very important to be aware of the statute of limitations that applies to a particular claim. 

  1. What is the statute of limitations for Personal Injury cases?

The statute of limitations for personal injury cases is generally two years. [1]  The two-year statute of limitations typically applies to:

  • Automobile accidents, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and ride share (Uber and Lyft)
  • Slip and fall claims
  • Dog bites
  • Premise liability

Some personal injury claims are subject to a one-year statute of limitations—including actions for libel, slander and false imprisonment.[2]

It is important to be aware that the statute of limitations may be shortened if you are suing a government agency. For personal injury claims against the government, an administrative claim must be filed within 6 months of the date of the injury.[3]  An administrative claim is different from a lawsuit and is filed directly with the government agency.  The procedures for government claims are very particular and the statute of limitations can be complicated to figure out. We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney to determine how much time you have and the procedures that must be followed to pursue your claim. 

You can read about these types of claims and the services we offer here.

  1. When does the statute of limitations start to run (i.e., when does the clock start ticking)?

The statute of limitations generally starts to run when the wrongful act is committed.[4]  This means that for the typical car crash, the countdown timer starts to tick on the date of the accident. 

Under appropriate circumstances, the running of the statute of limitations may be delayed until a plaintiff discovers or should have reasonably discovered the facts constituting their claim.[5]  Specifically, the “delayed discovery rule” postpones the statute of limitations until the plaintiff suspects or reasonably should suspect:

  • that the plaintiff has been injured;
  • the cause of injury; and
  • the tortious nature of the conduct causing the injury.[6]

The delayed discovery rule is commonly seen in medical malpractice actions.  That is because the plaintiff (i.e., typically the patient) may not have knowledge that something is wrong until months or even years after an operation or consultation with a doctor.  In medical malpractice actions, a claim must be brought within one year after the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered the “injury.”[7]

  1. Can the statute of limitations be put on hold?

The statute of limitations can be put on hold for a period of time under certain circumstances.  This is known as “tolling”.  Tolling may happen when the defendant is:

  • a minor;
  • out of the state or in prison; or
  • legally insane. 

When the reason for the tolling ends, the statute of limitations begins to run again. 

It is very important to understand that filing your claim with the insurance company generally does not toll the statute of limitations.  If the insurance company has rejected or failed to respond to your claim, you must make sure to file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires in order to retain your legal rights. 

  1. What is a tolling agreement?

A tolling agreement is a legal agreement between the plaintiff and defendant that temporarily puts a hold on the statute of limitations.  The time limit for filing a lawsuit will be extended for the duration of time specified in the tolling agreement. Tolling agreements are often used for personal injury claims when the insurance company requests additional time to complete their investigation or when the parties are negotiating a settlement that may resolve the claims and avoid the need to file a lawsuit. 

Tolling agreements are complicated matters and should be carefully to vetted to ensure that you do not waive any of your legal rights.  We strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney before entering into a tolling agreement. 

It is important to act quickly after an incident, as the process of gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses and assessing the extent of the damage can take time. Additionally, the longer you wait to file a claim, the harder it may be to gather the necessary evidence and build a strong case.

At our law firm, we understand the importance of meeting deadlines and ensuring that our clients’ rights are protected. We work diligently to gather the necessary evidence, build a strong case and file a claim before the statute of limitations expires. 

Contact us today to discuss your case. 

[1] California Code of Civil Procedure section 335.1

[2] California Code of Civil Procedure section 340

[3] California Government Code sections 905 and 911.2

[4] Fox v. Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. (2005) 35 C4th 797, 807-809.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5.

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