Like all states, California places limits on the amount of time after an injury occurs that the victim may make a claim for damages. In personal injury cases, the word “damages” refers to the consequences of an injury, including the victim’s medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. These time limits serve multiple important purposes, including ensuring that evidence remains available and eyewitness testimony is still reliable and fresh should the case require a trial. The statute of limitations also protects defendants from living under the long-term threat of an impending lawsuit. California has different time limits depending on the type of case, and whether or not it’s a civil claim or criminal case.
California’s statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits is two years from the date the injury occurred. However, like most rules, exceptions apply. There are some occasions when the law allows “tolling” or delaying the statute of limitations under specific circumstances.
Tolling occurs when the court allows a delay in when the clock begins ticking on the two-year time limit for a personal injury claim. This occurs under the following conditions:
If a victim doesn’t realize they are injured right away, or they fail to connect the symptoms they experience to the negligent incident that caused them, the statute of limitations begins on the date of discovery or when the victim should reasonably have discovered the injury. A good example of the delayed discovery rule occurs when a doctor diagnoses a victim’s nagging backache as a fractured vertebrae due to a slip-and-fall accident the victim experienced in a cafe restroom with a leaky water pipe. The two-year clock begins ticking on the date of discovery.
If the injury victim is rendered unconscious, comatose, or incapacitated by the injury, the two-year statute of limitations begins on the date that they regain consciousness or cognitive ability. The court may also delay the statute of limitations due to a victim’s insanity or imprisonment.
If an injury occurs to a minor, they have until two years from their 18th birthday to file a claim.
For medical malpractice injuries in California, injury victims have only one year from the date the injury occurred to file a claim except in cases of delayed discovery. An example occurs when a patient learns their painful symptoms result from a surgical tool or gauze that was left behind in a body cavity after surgery.
In cases of delayed discovery in medical malpractice, victims have up to three years after the initial medical malpractice incident in which to file a claim.
When injured on government-owned property or when filing a personal injury claim against a government entity, the victim has only 6-months to file a claim for damages.
The statute of limitations for personal injury claims typically allows enough time for a victim to perceive the full scope of the damage they’re facing from the injury, including whether they need future medical care related to the injury or are facing a disability that limits their capacity to earn a living in the future. It’s important to have a clear understanding of the damages before filing a claim. Timing a claim is a delicate balance, however, because your attorney may also require ample time to investigate the circumstances of the injury, prove negligence, and make a compelling case for compensation. In most cases, several meetings and negotiations take place before the at-fault party’s insurance company offers a settlement. If they fail to offer an acceptable settlement or wrongfully deny the claim, the lawsuit must come to court before the statute of limitations expires or the court will dismiss the case.
If you have a question as to how California’s statute of limitations applies to your case, an Encino attorney who specializes in personal injury can help.