The Statute of Limitations in a Personal Injury Case in California
If someone else’s actions or failure to act responsibly harms you, one way you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries is by filing a personal injury claim against them. However, time is limited to take legal action. California gives accident victims a set amount of time to file a claim for compensation. This timeframe is known as the statute of limitations.
Understanding the statute of limitations for your personal injury case is critical. Miss the deadline, and you could lose your rights to compensation altogether.
The Los Angeles personal injury lawyers at Custodio & Dubey LLP can answer any questions you may have about the statute of limitations in your case. Our highly trained and knowledgeable attorneys have more than 50 years of combined experience handling all types of personal injury claims. Since opening our doors, we’ve helped our clients recover more than $90 million in total compensation for their injuries.
Get a free initial consultation with a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer today. Call or contact us now.
What Does the Statute of Limitations Mean?
A statute of limitations is a time limit on how long someone has to file a lawsuit. This deadline is important because if you cannot reach an out-of-court settlement with the party or parties responsible for your injuries, a lawsuit may be necessary to compel them to pay for your losses.
If you wait too long to file a personal injury lawsuit and the statute of limitations expires, you will no longer have the ability to recover financial compensation for your injuries through the legal system.
Having said that, it’s important to know there’s no singular, universal statute of limitations for personal injury claims in California. A skilled attorney will be able to review the circumstances of your accident and help you understand the statute of limitations that applies to your case.
Why Is There a Statute of Limitations?
The purpose of a statute of limitations is to provide a measure of fairness for potential defendants. The longer someone waits to file a lawsuit after being injured, the more likely it is that witnesses’ memories will fade, key parties will move or pass away, evidence will be lost, and so on.
By imposing a deadline on plaintiffs to file their claims, the statute of limitations puts the burden on them to pursue their case instead of asking defendants to fight back against claims related to injuries that happened many years or even decades ago.
What Are the Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations in California?
There is no one statute of limitations on personal injury claims in California. Here are the deadlines for some of the most common kinds of personal injury lawsuits:
General personal injury
This includes cases like car accidents, motorcycle accidents, truck accidents, pedestrian accidents, premises liability injuries, defective products accidents, and more. Essentially, it covers general injuries caused by another party’s negligent behavior, reckless actions, or failure to act. The statute of limitations in these cases is two years from the date of your injury.
Property damage and trespassing
While you only have two years from the date of your injury to file a lawsuit in many personal injury cases, many of these claims involve some type of property damage in addition to the physical injuries you sustain. You have three years under California law to file a personal injury lawsuit related to any damaged property and trespassing claims.
In most wrongful death cases, the statute of limitations is two years from the date the injured person died, not from the date they were hurt. For example, if someone is injured in a car crash and later dies from their injuries, the two-year clock begins when they died, not on the date of the collision.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. If a family doesn’t discover that someone died a wrongful death until later on, the two-year countdown begins on the date that the wrongful death is discovered. Furthermore, sometimes a family doesn’t discover someone’s death until well after the death occurred, such as if the family member went missing. In these cases, the family has two years from the date they discovered someone died to file a lawsuit.
California law allows families to file a special kind of medical malpractice suit if a doctor or medical facility fails to diagnose a serious birth defect in a developing fetus, thus preventing the child’s parents from understanding the situation and making an informed decision. These cases are known as wrongful birth suits. The statute of limitations in these personal injury cases is six years.
The injuries stemming from medical malpractice aren’t always immediately evident or obvious, so there’s some wiggle room in the statute of limitations. Instead of starting from the date of the injury, the one-year statute of limitations on medical malpractice cases starts from the date the injury is discovered or should have been discovered.
However, a medical malpractice lawsuit cannot be filed more than three years from the actual date of the injury. This gives patients some breathing room, but not an unlimited amount of time to file a lawsuit.
Child sexual abuse/assault
Because victims of child sexual assault and abuse may not realize they were injured until many years later, state law gives them a long while to file a personal injury suit against the person who harmed them. Victims of child sexual assault and abuse have until they reach their 40th birthday or five years from the date of discovering their abuse to file a lawsuit, whichever is later.
Claims against government agencies
Most personal injury claims against a state or local government entity must be filed within six months of the injury, no matter what kind of injury was involved.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations
There are some exceptions to the personal injury statute of limitations in California. In these cases, the statute of limitations may be “tolled,” or suspended, giving you more time to bring your case to court. Some of these situations include:
- If the person who was injured was a minor: State law prevents anyone under 18 from making legal decisions on their own. Therefore, the statute of limitations is generally tolled until the victim reaches 18, at which point the standard time limits begin to apply. However, medical malpractice claims brought by those under age 18 must be filed within three years of the alleged injury, or by the time they turn eight years old if they were six years old or younger when the injury occurred, whichever is later.
- Claims made by victims of crimes: State law gives the victims of crimes more time to file a personal injury claim. For certain crimes, victims have one year from the date the defendant is adjudicated by the courts to file their claim. For more serious felony crimes, such as rape and murder, the victim has 10 years from the date the defendant completes their prison sentence to file a lawsuit.
- Claims made against defendants who are out of state, in prison, or have been declared mentally incompetent: In these cases, the statute of limitations is suspended until the condition that prevents the defendant from being sued no longer applies (e.g., they complete their prison term or are deemed mentally competent). Once the condition no longer applies, the standard statutes of limitations kick in.
Can I Switch Attorneys After the Statute of Limitations Has Passed?
Sometimes a person will file a personal injury lawsuit within the statute of limitations, but then the case ends up dragging, and they want to hire a new lawyer to represent them. If the statute of limitations has passed while the case was still pending, it can be a bit confusing to figure out if you’re able to hire a new attorney.
As long as you’re careful about how you switch attorneys and follow the correct procedure, you are allowed to retain new legal representation even after the statute of limitations has passed in a personal injury case, assuming the original case was filed on time. A lawyer from Custodio & Dubey LLP can explain what needs to happen if you choose to change attorneys in a free consultation.
How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Help Me?
A personal injury lawsuit requires a great deal of time, effort, and skill to give your case the best possible chance of success. You need to quickly gather the required evidence, build a convincing case against the responsible parties, take part in delicate negotiations, and possibly try your case before a judge or jury. This is what personal injury lawyers do every day.
At Custodio & Dubey LLP, we can handle all of the legal legwork and make sure you get the best medical care possible after your accident.
We invite you to call us today to arrange a free consultation at (888) 200-9431.