Dec 31, 2018

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.

Determining Your Rights in Court

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 situations.

Statute or contract law governs the period. 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 including suing the government or cruise ship company, you must file a claim right away. This tenuous deadline is why you must speak to a lawyer as soon as possible!

Most common statutes of limitations:

  • 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 accident date.
  • Breach of a Written Contract. In cases where there has been a breach of a written contract, there is a four-year limitation from when the breach of the deal.
  • Breach of Oral Contract. When there is a breach of an oral contract, there is a three-year limit to file, from when the breach of contract.
  • Government Agency Claims. The claim filed against the government agency has a 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. If the court denies it, then a lawsuit can be filed in court. The ordinary statutes 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 limitations. If you are unsure about the time you have to file a lawsuit, consult an attorney.

The court self-help resources might be helpful. However, it is vital to remember if the statute of limitations 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, there is a specific way to file a claim against them. 

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

  • Personal Injury Claims. Personal injury claims include injuries and property damage. The statute of limitations 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 broke. Once your claim gets filed with the government, they have 45 days to respond, to your application. During these 45 days, if your request is denied, then you have six months to file a lawsuit from the date the denial was mailed, or hand-delivered.

The 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 the 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 "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 ends when the minor reaches the age of 18, out of prison, 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. 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 often determines the amount of time 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,  consult an attorney. 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 causation. Personal injury accidents, assault, battery, wrongful death, whether intentional, an illegal act, negligent acts, or due to negligently inflicting emotional distress. Such statutes 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 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 of property damage.

Further Examples Include:

  • Claims against a Health-Care Provider. This is known as Medical Malpractice. There is a one year limit from the date the plaintiff knows about the injury or three years from 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, described in the California Code of Civil Procedure section 364, is a statute that when filing a claim against a health-care provider, 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 are an agreement not adhered to between the plaintiff and defendant. 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. California Code of Civil Procedures Section 339.  There is a two year period in which to file a claim, from the date that the contract became broken.

Prominent Examples:

  • 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 filing often against an architect, builder, or contractor. The latent defects rules list in the 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 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 filing this special claim. The statute of limitations is six months from the date of the injury filing 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 a 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, 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 in the period that the defendant has to file their legal claim from the date of the injury.


Need to schedule an appointment for legal advice in a city near you? Reach out to a Los Angeles, California personal injury lawyer specialist near you or another location or practice area as follows:

Torrance wrongful death lawyer, Torrance car accident lawyer, Torrance motorcycle accident lawyer.

Need a civil injury lawyer closer to you? Reach out to a:

Bus Accident lawyer in Newport Beach, CA, Redondo Beach Bicycle Pathway Accident Lawyers, Marina del Rey, CA accident lawyers near you.

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