What Is the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury in California?
If you are hurt because of someone else’s negligent behavior, it may be in your best interest to pursue a personal injury claim against that person. Doing so may allow you to collect compensation for various damages such as lost wages, the cost of medical bills and the cost of replacing items lost or damaged in the accident. As a general rule, you have two years from the date of the accident that led to your injuries to file a lawsuit.
Why Does California Impose a Statute of Limitations?
There are several reasons why the state of California requires you to pursue a personal injury claim in a timely manner. First, the longer you take to file a lawsuit, the more likely it becomes that important documents may be lost or destroyed. Furthermore, it becomes harder for witnesses to remember the events that led to your injuries. Therefore, it may be unreasonably difficult for a defendant to defend him or herself against any claim that you might make
In addition, requiring you to file a lawsuit within a certain period of time helps to ensure that there is a link between a defendant’s actions and any harm you may incur. For example, let’s say that you were injured in a car accident while driving home from a Christmas party. If you take action within a few weeks or months after the crash, it may be easier to prove that the accident caused your headaches, broken limbs or torn muscles.
However, if you filed a claim five years after the accident, it becomes harder to conclude that it was the reason for your head, neck or back pain. Instead, it may be possible that your back hurts because you sleep on an old mattress or that you have headaches because you stare at a computer screen for too many hours each day.
Your Personal Injury Case Doesn’t Have to Conclude Within Two Years
It’s important to note that you merely have to file a lawsuit in a timely manner to retain your right to take your personal injury claim to court. In many cases, your personal injury attorney will file a lawsuit the day that he or she is hired to represent your interests. However, there is a good chance that your proceeding will be resolved through informal negotiations that take place outside of a courtroom.
Your attorney will be able to talk more about how long it will likely take to resolve your case. If there are few disputes about the facts in the matter, you could receive a settlement within a few days or weeks. In the event that there are disputes about the facts in the case, it could be several months before a settlement is reached.
If your case goes to court, several months may elapse between the first time you appear before a judge and the start of the trial. Any appeals that occur after a verdict is reached could prolong your case by an additional several months or years.
What Happens If the Statute of Limitations Clock Runs Out?
If the statute of limitations clock runs out, you can still pursue a settlement outside of court. However, you may not have the leverage needed to obtain a financial award that provides adequate compensation. It’s also possible that an inability to take your case to court will result in defendants simply refusing to meet you at the negotiating table.
Certain Events May Give You More Time to File a Lawsuit
California law generally gives you two years after you reach the age of majority to take action in a personal injury case. Therefore, if you were hurt as a minor, you’ll likely have more than two years from the date of the accident that led to your injuries to take legal action.
It’s not uncommon for symptoms of injuries such as whiplash, a concussion or internal bleeding to take several days or weeks to present themselves. In some cases, it may take several months before you are able to determine the particular event that caused your adverse health conditions.
State law acknowledges that the proximate cause of an injury may not be obvious right away, so the limitations clock will toll for however long it would take a reasonable person to determine the cause of his or her health ailments. In California, you typically have a year to take legal action after linking your injuries to a specific incident.
It’s possible that a fall, motor vehicle accident or other event might cause you to slip into a coma. In such a scenario, you’ll generally have two years from the date that you regain consciousness to file a lawsuit in your case. Alternatively, you may have 24 months to take such a step from the date that you are considered to have the mental capacity to do so.
The statute of limitations may not apply if you are diagnosed as clinically insane regardless of whether or not you lost consciousness after an accident. You will likely need to be examined by a mental health professional prior to receiving such a diagnosis.
In the event that you leave the state, the limitations clock may be paused until you return. This is generally true whether you move elsewhere to pursue a job opportunity, to be closer to family or for any other reason.
Finally, if you are incarcerated, the statute of limitations will generally toll until you are released. An exception may be made in the event that you have access to legal services or other resources needed to adequately pursue your claim.
If you have retained the services of a personal injury attorney, let this person know immediately if you think that any of these exceptions may apply to you. He or she may be able to determine if this is true and how they may impact your case.
You May Have Less Time to Sue a Government Agency
In California, you may have as little as six months to take formal legal action against a government entity. The state has 45 days after receiving your compliant to decide whether to accept or reject it. If the claim is rejected, you can then take the state, a state agency or government official to court. The deadline to do so is six months after receiving notice that this has happened. In the event that you do not receive a reply within 45 days, you’ll have two years from the date of an incident to do so.
What Else Should You Know About Pursuing a Personal Injury Claim?
There are protocols that you will need to follow when filing a personal injury claim, and if these protocols are not followed, it may result in your case being thrown out. In most cases, formal paperwork must be filed with the court clerk to be considered officially filed. You must also make copies of these documents so that they can be delivered to other parties who may request them.
It’s also important to note that the defendant in your matter must be served with the lawsuit before a judge will begin the process of evaluating your claim. Defendants are typically given 60 days to respond to your allegations. Your attorney will likely talk more about the process of filing a lawsuit and why it is important to do so properly and as soon as possible.
If you are hurt in a fall, a car accident or as the result of a workplace accident, you may be entitled to a financial award. Your attorney will serve as your advocate throughout the legal process to maximize your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome in your case. If necessary, your attorney may also be able to guide you through the process of appealing an unfavorable jury verdict.