How Long Do I Have to File a Personal Injury Claim in California?

April 9, 2024 Personal injury

Like all states, California courts place a limit on the amount of time an injury victim has to file a lawsuit against the party responsible for their injury. This limit serves two important purposes, to ensure that evidence remains available and eyewitness testimony reliable when a case goes to court, and to protect defendants against the long-term threat of lawsuits.

Most injury victims in California wish to recover compensation for their damages like medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering soon after their accident. Injury victims sometimes wonder why anyone would wait long enough to file a claim to worry about the statute of limitations expiring on their case, but this stems from a common misconception confusing an injury claim against an at-fault party’s insurance company with a lawsuit.

If you’ve been injured in California, the Encino personal injury lawyers emphasize the importance of understanding how the state’s statute of limitations affects your case.

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How Long Is the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims in California?

California has a two-year statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits. This is the most common time limit for this type of legal action across the U.S., though several states have longer limits of three or even five years. This doesn’t mean that an injury victim should wait to file a claim. A personal injury claim and a lawsuit are not the same. Most types of personal injury costs in California are covered by the at-fault party’s insurance. For instance, car insurance after an accident or premises liability insurance after a slip-and-fall injury in a store. The best time to file a claim is shortly after the injury occurs but not so soon that the victim doesn’t know the full extent of the damages they’re facing. Then an investigation period takes place followed by what could be months of negotiations for an acceptable settlement offer. About 95% of personal injury claims in California result in an out-of-court settlement, but if the insurance company denies the claim or fails to offer an acceptable settlement, injury victims have the option to go to court with a lawsuit. The injury victim must file a personal injury lawsuit within two years of the date of the injury or the court will toss out the case and the victim may no longer sue for compensatory damages.

Understanding the Time Limit for Personal Injury Claims and Exceptions

According to California Code of Civil Procedure §335.1:

“ The Time of Commencing Actions Other Than for the Recovery of Real Property … is

Within two years: An action for assault, battery, or injury to, or for the death of, an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.”

The two-year time limit on personal injury claims in California is only extended—or “tolled”—under specific circumstances, including the following:

  • If an injury victim is a minor at the time the injury occurs, they have up to two years from their 18th birthday to file a claim. The time limit is tolled until they turn 18 and then the “clock” starts to run again.
  • If there is a delay in the discovery of an injury or its cause, the time limit begins on the day of the discovery as long as the delay was “reasonable.” For instance, if the injury victim didn’t know specific facts like their backache was due to a herniated disc from an earlier slip-and-fall accident the delayed discovery rule comes into play extending the time limit.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, tolling the statute of limitations for many injury cases occurred under “Emergency Rule 9.”
  • In some cases, tolling occurs due to an injury victim’s incapacitated or comatose state after an accident. The statute of limitations begins on the date they regain cognitive ability.

In addition, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits varies from other types of personal injury cases in California. Malpractice injury victims have up to three years from the date the malpractice occurs to file a claim.

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