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

statute of limitations for personal injury cases

As an injury victim in California, statutes of limitations set legal deadlines for taking legal action after an accident.

These deadlines, defined in California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1 (CCP 335.1), exist to encourage the quick resolution of legal disputes—but they can easily catch injury victims off guard.

Miss the cutoff date for filing a personal injury lawsuit, and you may lose your right to recover compensation completely. Understanding California’s statute of limitations for personal injury claims is essential for knowing your rights and avoiding critical mistakes during the claims process.

California’s Two-Year Injury Claim Deadline

The baseline statute of limitations for filing personal injury lawsuits in the State of California is two years from the date of injury.

Specifically, CCP 335.1 states:

  • 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.

This rule means accident victims typically have 24 months from their injury to file a lawsuit for financial recovery. Statutes like this balance the victim’s rights with the defendant’s right not to be exposed to never-ending liability. They encourage resolving legal disputes efficiently.

When the California Statute of Limitations Clock Starts Ticking

California personal injury law includes two potential start dates:

  • The date the injury occurred.
  • The date the victim discovered the injury.

This subtlety can substantially impact filing deadlines. Generally, the court will use the date the injury occurred.

Litigation strategies like tolling the statutes of limitations (filing on the date the victim discovered the injury) may also affect timelines when injuries remain undiscovered or inactive for long periods.

Notable Exceptions to the Statute

CCP 335.1 establishes the standard two-year deadline for adults, but special provisions allow more flexibility in certain situations, according to California statutes:

  • Minors typically have until age 20 (two years after turning 18) to file a claim.
  • Latent injuries like asbestos diseases may qualify for tolling.
  • Mental incapacity may provide grounds for deadline extensions.
  • For medical malpractice cases, the statute of limitations is one year from the date the injured party knew or should have known they were injured or three years from the date of the incident, whichever is shorter.
  • Claims against public entities (city, state, certain medical providers, etc.) require a claim to be filed within 6 months before the two-year statute becomes effective.
  • Parents of minors suffering medical malpractice must file claims within three years of the negligence. However, for children injured before age 6, parents have until either three years after the incident or until the child’s eighth birthday–whichever is later.
  • Defendants moving out of state can sometimes ”stop the clock” on statutes of limitations.

These examples illustrate why getting competent legal advice promptly after any injury is so important—especially for complex, unusual, or borderline cases. There are additional statutes that may apply to specific situations, and it is advisable to consult with an attorney to determine the appropriate course of action.

Settlement Considerations and Statutes of Limitations

Settling injury claims through privately negotiated agreements offers clear advantages over protracted litigation. Most notably, settlement talks begin immediately after accidents – well before legal deadlines.

Statute Limitations for Insurance and Other Settlements

The two-year clock keeps ticking during settlement negotiations, so filing a complaint too close to the deadline risks time expiring before resolving the matter.

Entering binding contracts guarantees compensation rather than awaiting unpredictable trial judgments or appeals rulings. Once formalized in writing, only failure to fulfill contract conditions can reverse agreed awards.

Adverse Effects of Settling Within the Statute

Despite their appeal, settlement offers demand caution regarding statutes of limitations. Specifically, negotiated dispute resolutions require plaintiffs to sign liability waivers forfeiting all future claims tied to the case.

If injuries worsen later or evidence proves more extensive damages than anticipated, no route exists for reopening cases or pursuing additional recovery after executing a settlement contract. Unless attorneys specifically structure contingency provisions into terms protecting such rights, new causes of action disappear.

Consult an experienced California personal injury attorney before signing away all future recovery rights. While settlement deals make sense early in many injury cases, victims must also consider worst-case scenarios regarding health declines when evaluating proposal details.

Arbitration Clauses Further Complicate Matters

Increasingly, businesses require customers, users, and even employees to sign terms of service (ToS) agreements, forcing arbitration rather than pursuing courtroom litigation for disputes.

However, “fine print” statutes of limitations clauses often appear within these contracts, dictating firm deadlines for filing grievances. Companies then enforce these binding cutoff dates, which may fall shorter than California’s two-year minimum for personal injury claims or other cases governed under traditional law.

For this reason, signing agreements with arbitration clauses warrants very close scrutiny. While revoking rights to court access, such provisions also commonly deprive victims of the usual claim filing duration.

Never sign contracts affecting legal recourse without fully understanding the consequences across all aspects of dispute resolution and periods permitting complaint filings. Such clauses only benefit companies, not customers.

What Happens If You Miss The Deadline?

Unfortunately, failing to file before California’s two-year statute of limitations expires can destroy any chance of compensation, even for disabling accidents.

While rare exceptions occasionally occur, no universal grace period or automatic deadline extensions apply. Instead, California law seeks to balance reasonable recovery rights with firm cutoff dates.

Hopefully, competent legal counsel will guide you through the process well before critical deadlines pass. But without proper education on statutes of limitations, unwary plaintiffs may easily miss their window and lose rights forever—a tragic outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit?

Usually, two years from the date of the injury, but exceptions exist.

Can I still sue if my injury gets worse over time?

Possibly under California’s tolling rules regarding latent injuries.

What if the at-fault driver leaves California?

The clock may stop, extending your right to file.

Is there flexibility if I was hospitalized and missed the cutoff date?

Unfortunately, no grace period applies, though exceptions like “tolling” may provide legal recourse. Every situation differs. Promptly retaining competent legal counsel proves critical for avoiding missteps when interpreting California’s complex statutes of limitations.

Contact Our California Personal Injury Law Firm Now

Don’t lose your right to recover damages simply because you missed a legal subtlety or deadline requirement. The California personal injury attorneys at Pasternack Injury Law Group offer trusted guidance for injury victims statewide.

Call or contact us online today for dedicated legal representation regarding California’s statute of limitations. The statute of limitations clock is already ticking on your case. Make the call now—it could save your right to compensation.

Author Bio

Barry A. Pasternack

Barry Pasternack brings over three decades of legal experience to his role as the founding attorney at Pasternack Injury Law Group. He holds a J.D. from the esteemed California Western School of Law in San Diego, California, and has been a member of the California State Bar since 1988. Located in downtown San Diego, Barry’s practice serves clients throughout the San Diego region, providing comprehensive guidance and representation.

Barry’s commitment to his clients is unwavering, and your initial consultation is always free of charge. You only pay attorney’s fees when he successfully recovers compensation on your behalf. When you choose Barry Pasternack, you’re selecting a skilled legal professional who will tirelessly fight for your rights and work diligently to help you on your path to recovery.

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