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Statute of Limitations for Filing Lawsuits in California Courts

Statutes impose limitations illustration
Pictured above is the word “limitations” and a picture of a smiling attorney. She is thinking while standing in front of a futuristic black and blue background.

There is a statute of limitations for most lawsuits; this is the deadline, for filing your case with the court. In cases where the statute of limitations has run out, the legal claim will not be valid in most cases. The amount of time you have before a court can no longer accept that lawsuit will depend on the type of situation.

This time limitation will be governed by statute or contract law. There is a two-year statute of limitations for most personal injury cases in California. But that doesn’t mean we wait.

In fact, in cases where you sue the government or a cruise ship company, things are different, and you must file a claim right away. This tenous deadline is why you must speak to a lawyer as soon as possible!

The statutes of limitation for the most common lawsuits that are filed include:

  • Personal Injury: Personal injury lawsuits must be filed within two years from the time of the injury. In cases where the harm was not discovered immediately, then there is a one-year period from the date of discovery.
  • Property Damage: There is a three-year time limit to file a lawsuit for property damage, from the date that the accident occurred.
  • Breach of a Written Contract: In cases where there has been a breach of a written contract there is a four-year time limitation from the date that the deal was broken.
  • Breach of Oral Contract: when there is a breach of an oral contract there is a three-year time limit to file a lawsuit, from the date that the contract was broken.
  • Government Agency Claims: The claim filed against the government agency has a time limit of six months from the date of the incident. However, in some cases, the deadline can be one year from the time of the event. Should the claim be denied, then a lawsuit can be filed in court, and the ordinary statutes will apply for the time limitation.

Some crimes do not have a statute of limitations, like murder that has no statute of limitations. If you believe that you have a claim, it can be difficult to determine the statute of limitation. If you are unsure about the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit, it is essential to consult an attorney.

The court self-help resources might be helpful, but it is vital to remember if the statute of limitation expires, the court will not accept your lawsuit.

Why Are Claims Against Government Agencies More Difficult?

There are several exceptions to the previously stated time constraint. For example, what if the defendant was a federal agency or a government employee? In that case, these parties have sovereign immunity, and there is a specific way to go about filing a claim against them. 

When you have a claim against a government agency, it starts with a unique claim, called an “administrative claim.” This claim gets filed with the government office or agency, before applying to the court. When submitting this administrative claim, it will be necessary to use the agency’s form.

  • Personal Injury Claims: Personal injury claims include injuries and property damage. The statute of limitation is six months for these claims from the date of the loss or property damage. For this type of government claim, you should review California Government Code section 905 and section 911.2. Consulting a personal injury attorney will ensure that the complaint is filed correctly and within the given amount of time.
  • Real Property Damage and Breach of Contract: Both of these types of government claims have a one-year statute of limitation from the date the property damage occurred, or the contract became broken. Once your claim gets filed with the government, they have 45 days to respond, to your application. During this 45 days, if your request is denied, then you will have six months to file a lawsuit in court from the date the denial was mailed, or hand delivered.

Government claim statutes of limitations can be confusing, and if there are any doubts, it is crucial to consult an experienced lawyer. They will be able to discuss the statute of limitation period and can help protect your rights if your government claim is denied.

When is the Statute of Limitations Suspended?

There are some occasions when the statute of limitations becomes suspended for a period and then will restart. This suspension is known as “tolling the statute of limitations,” and happens in circumstances where the defendant is a minor, is in prison, is out of the state, or is insane.

The tolling will end, when the minor reaches the age of 18, the person is out of prison, has returned to the state of California or is no longer insane the period of limitation will resume.

Another exception that may apply is in cases of wrongful death. Special circumstances such as negligent killings can extend the time to sue. For example, if the plaintiff is in a coma, the family could sue for them, etc.  However, if the plaintiff dies, the bodily injury suit drops and then the family can file a new claim for wrongful death.

When tolling is involved in the claim against a government office or agency, it can be extremely complicated, and it is highly advisable to consult a lawyer.

Common Statutes of Limitations

The standard periods in which a lawsuit must get filed or a claim are located in the California Code of Civil Procedure §§ 312-366. This can be read to determine the amount of time that you have to file your claim.

It remains important to be sure that the laws you read apply specifically to your type of case. If it does not, or you are not satisfied with the statute of limitation for your claim, then you should consult an attorney to ensure you understand the time limit you have for your specific type of case.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Various Types of Claims?

  • Personal Injury: This is a claim that occurs when the defendant injures you, with or without the intention of causing the injury. Personal injury accidents, assault, battery, or wrongful death, whether intentional, an illegal act, negligent acts or due to negligently inflicting emotional distress are located in the California Code of Civil Procedure section 335.1. The period in which a claim can be filed is two years from the date the injury occurred.
  • Property Damage: When a defendant damages or destroys your property, whether it was intentional or accidental. This destruction can be personal property, such as a vehicle collision, fraud, creating a nuisance or trespassing on your property without permission. This statute of limitations is in the California Code of Civil Procedure section 338. The breach of sale goods section is located in California Commercial Code section 2725. The statute of limitations time is two years from the date the property damage occurred.
  • Claims against a Health-Care Provider: This is known as Medical Malpractice, and there is a time limitation of one year from the date the plaintiff knows about the injury or three years from the date when they should have known about the injury. This discovery date will go by whichever date is earlier — this section outlined in California Code of Civil Procedures section 340.5. Also, outlined in the California Code of Civil Procedure section 364, is a statute that when filing a claim against a health-care provider, they must be given 90 days notice before the claim can be filed. The statute of limitations is one year to file a complaint; however, in some cases, it can be up to three years.
  • Breach of Written Contracts: The breach of written contracts is outlined in California Code of Civil Procedures section 337 and has a four-year time limit from the date that the deal was broken.
  • Breach of Oral Contracts: Oral contracts are ones that are not written and is an agreement between the plaintiff and defendant that did not adhere too. In many cases, there is some written proof, whether it is a receipt, a canceled check or another paper document that could be evidence of an oral contract. This rule is found in California Code of Civil Procedures section 339 and has a two year period in which to file a claim, from the date that the contract became broken.
  • Libel and Slander: Libel is when a defendant vilifies you in writing, print or photographs and slander is when they verbally insult you or your character. This rule is covered under the California Code of Civil Procedures section 340c and has one year from the date of the injury.
  • Unknown Problems, “Latent Defects”: Latent defects occur with real property design improvement, construction that caused damage to real estate or personal property, and survey of the real property. This type of legal claim usually gets filed against an architect, builder or contractor. The latent defects rules are in California Code of Civil Procedures, section 337.15. There is a ten-year statute of limitations from the date of the mostly finished construction.
  • Claims Against Banks: A complaint against a bank when a check was paid, which was signed without authorization or when the signature was forged is outlined in California Code of Civil Procedure, section 340 and has one year from the date that the bank paid the funds.

What About Your Claims Against Government Agencies or Offices? 

The complaint that gets filed against a public body or office is known as an extraordinary claim or “Administrative Claim.” This administrative claim must be filed before applying to the court, and it is required to use the government’s form to file this special claim. The statute of limitations on this type of case is six months from the date of the injury to file the administrative complaint.

  • (1) Personal Property, Personal Injury, and Wrongful Death: Filing these types of claims against a government agency or office, will mean filing an administrative claim within six months from the date of the injury or death. This rule remains outlined in Government Code, Section 911.2.
  • (2) Real Property Damages and Breach of Contract: When real property injury or breach of contract has occurred, and the defendant is a government agency or office there is one year time period from the date of the damage to file an administrative claim. This rule can be in Government Code, Section 911.2, under “any other cause of action.”

After you file an administrative claim, the government agency or office has 45 days in which to respond, as outlined in Government Code, Section 912.4

In cases where the government agency:

  • Does Not Respond: If the government agency or office does not answer the claim during the 45-days they have under the code, you will have six months from that time to file a lawsuit in court. In the case of an administrative claim that was not ignored but denied, the six months to file a lawsuit in court will be from the date that you received the denial in the mail or when it was hand delivered. These rules are in Government Code, Section 912.4 and 912.6.

When filing a legal claim, whether it is to the court or a government agency or office, consulting with an attorney can help to prevent errors in the computation of statute limitations or the period that the defendant has to file their legal claim from the date of the injury.


Michael Ehline - PI Law Tutorials

Michael Ehline is a highly trained personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, CA. He writes educational articles to help injured consumers.

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