Statute of Limitations in California Personal Injury Cases

If you have been injured in a California accident you are probably all-too familiar with the costs and expenses that can add up in the days, weeks, and months that follow. In 2013, one study found that the average cost of a bodily injury claim was approximately $15,000 and the average cost of a property damage claim was approximately $3,000. When lost earnings and reduced earning capacity are factored into the equation, a California accident victim can face truly staggering costs as they try to recover.

How can an accident victim be expected to manage these costs? Most Americans do not have enough in savings to cover a $500 emergency, let alone tens of thousands of dollars for damage control after an accident. In California, personal injury accident victims may recover compensation through personal injury lawsuits. These lawsuits, however, must be filed within a certain period of time. This period of time is known as the statute of limitations.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims in California?

So, if you’ve been involved in an accident, how much time do you have to file a personal injury claim for damages? The answer will depend on the type of injury you sustain, who you are filing the claim against, and when you discover your injury. For most bodily injury claims in California, however, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the accident that caused the injury. This means that the clock begins to run as soon as you are injured in the accident.

This, however, is the general rule. California law has evolved to include more specific time frames for more specific harms. It also includes protections for accident victims that may not immediately notice an injury.

  • Bodily Injury Claims: must be filed within two years of the date of the accident or within one year of the date you discover a related injury. Common causes of bodily injuries may include assault, battery, product liability, premises liability, and negligence.
  • Property Injury Claims: must be filed within three years of the date that your property is damaged or destroyed. Claims for damage to property may be brought for theft, trespass, fraud, nuisance, and physical destruction.
  • Injuries Caused By Medical Malpractice: must be filed within three years of the incident causing your injury or within one year of the discovery of the malpractice.

However, special circumstances may cause the applicable statute of limitations to be paused or accelerated.

Tolling the Statute of Limitations in California

What happens if there are circumstances beyond your immediate control that make it impossible for you to file a claim for damages within the appropriate statute of limitations?

California may permit the statute of limitations to be “tolled” in certain situations. Tolling the statute of limitations is basically like hitting the pause button. They are paused until the special circumstance no longer exists. Circumstances that may cause the statute of limitations to toll include having a defendant who is a minor, out of state, imprisoned, or mentally insane.

Government Defendants May Cause Limitations on Time Permitted Under Statute of Limitations

If you are injured in a California accident and believe that the government is responsible you are permitted to ask for the government to compensate you for your injuries. However, the process involved in seeking compensation from the government is different than for other defendants. If you are interested in seeking compensation from the government you will have to move quickly. The statute of limitations for personal injury claims is significantly shorter when the government is involved.

In order to recover compensation from the government, you must file an administrative claim with the government within six months of the accident that caused your injury. If you do not file this administrative claim within that six month period your chances of recovering compensation (from the government) are slim. (There are certain exceptions to the rule.) After you submit your administrative claim the government must respond. They have 45 days to approve or deny your claim. The government, more often than not, will deny your claim, if only to avoid the repercussions of not responding at all. If the government does not respond to your administrative claim the original two-year statute of limitations is reinstated. When the government issues a denial, you then have six months to file a personal injury claim in the appropriate civil court.

Hire an Attorney to Ensure Your Claim is Filed Within the Statute of Limitations

The steps you take immediately following a California accident can really affect your ability to recover the compensation you may truly need in the future. The best way to ensure that your personal injury claim for damages is filed on time is to hire an experienced California personal injury attorney. An attorney will focus on making sure that your claim meets all legal and procedural requirements while you focus on your physical and emotional recovery after an accident.

This article is from Citywide Law Group – a team of Los Angeles personal injury attorneys with a track record of success.