Modified: November 17, 2022

What Are The Civil Statutes of Limitations for Filing Lawsuits?

What Is The California Statute Of Limitations For Filing My Case?

The woman asked, "what is the Statute of limitations for my case?"- illustration

U.S. Federal And California State Laws

Civil statutes of limitations were enacted into law to limit a civil plaintiff’s time to commence their lawsuit. Similar statutes of limitations apply to limit criminal prosecutions of defendants (no statute of limitations for murder).

Lawmakers conceived and passed these “statutes of limitations” deadlines so the parties could avoid injustice. The reasoning is that witnesses can disappear, die, or their memories can fade, evidence can be lost, and the plaintiff’s delaying a case can hang over a defendant’s head like the Sword of Damocles.

If the plaintiff had indeed suffered some wrong, they would have brought a case within a reasonable time.


Suppose the plaintiff allows the statute of limitations to expire. In that case, their legal claim will be invalid, and a court will refuse to accept that lawsuit unless a judge decides that an exception applies and extends the filing deadline. Statute or contract law governs the period. For example, suppose you are suing a government agency or cruise ship company. In that case, you must file a claim for damages within a specified time before you are entitled to file a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court. And a two-year statute of limitations applies in most personal injury cases in California. But that doesn’t mean we wait. This tenuous deadline is why you must speak to a lawyer as soon as possible!

NOTE: Murder and some other crimes have no statute of limitations. If you believe you have a claim, it can be challenging to determine your statute of limitations. When unsure what statute of limitations rules apply to your case, you must call your lawyer.

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The California Rules of Civil Procedure and Government Code contain most state rules, while other states and the federal government have regulations limiting your lawsuit rights. Your time to institute a damages claim can range from 6 months to 10 years.

The typical “tolling period” will begin to run if the plaintiff had received knowledge or should have been capable of comprehending they wrongfully received harm. Suppose the aggrieved party failed to discover the insult or injury because the party was a minor, incompetent, imprisoned, or mentally deficient.

In that case, equitable exceptions may apply to extend their time to sue. (was the party in a coma, suffering asbestosis, or mesothelioma?)

By a party filing a motion or by a court using its sua sponte power in the interests of justice, courts can extend the time to sue, especially when a defendant hides culpability and delays the action. Trial judges will strictly enforce this general statutory rule.

California court delay reduction rules also seek to administer justice, hesitating to hear antiquated disputes efficiently, preferring protecting defendants from being dragged into court years later. If the defendant answers, fails to demurrer or files a motion to dismiss summary judgment, you can argue the party waived the affirmative statute of limitations defenses after hearing the plaintiff’s case on the merits.

A party must know that different California claims called “causes of action” will come with their specific times to sue. So technically, a defendant can ask the trial court to toss out part of the plaintiff’s stale claims, but courts will allow the suing party’s remaining causes of action to proceed to litigation.

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What Statutes Of Limitations Most Commonly Apply In California Courts?

California Code of Civil Procedure Section 312-366 identifies the standard periods a party can file a lawsuit.

Video Transcript

what is the statute of limitations for
filing a wrongful death claim, the clock
for the statute of limitations in a
wrongful death claim usually starts to
tick on the date of the death of the
the decedent in California, the wrongful
death statute as of 2007 is a two-year
a regulation that means two years from the
the date that the decedent died within that
the time period the plaintiff in this case
the family members would have to sue for
wrongful death”

Personal Injury:

The plaintiff must timely file their injury lawsuit, denying more than two years to expire from the real party in interest’s injury date. If the person later notices their harm, their time to file a lawsuit becomes extended for one year from the discovery date. California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1 contains specific rules.

A personal injury happens when you suffer bodily or mental harm caused by someone’s intentional or negligent action-inaction.

A personal injury can be from a car accident, assault, battery, or wrongful death. The plaintiff has the right to sue a defendant for intentional, illegal, negligent acts or physical or emotional distress.

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Property Damage:

Generally, a party seeking court action will have three years to file their case from the property damage date. California Code of Civil Procedure section 338 is the applicable statute.

This property destruction can be intentional or due to negligence. Any person seeking to recover money for property damage from a vehicle collision, fraud, nuisance, or trespass must abide by the statute.

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  • Breach of a Written Contract:

Typically, a party seeking to file an action for breach of a written instrument will have four years from the breach date to lodge their court papers. California Code of Civil Procedures Section 337 contains the written statute of limitations.

  • Breach of Oral Contract:

An aggrieved party seeking to sue someone else for breach of an oral contract will be granted a three-years from the time another party breached the deal so they can file their California court documents.

Parties won’t always commit verbal agreements into a written instrument or standard contract form. Under the law, these agreements are just as valid as a written contract because they agree between the parties to act or not act.

However, some written proof may exist, such as a receipt, canceled check, or paper document memorializing evidence of an oral contract. California Code of Civil Procedure Section 339 contains the written statute of limitations guidelines for oral contract cases.

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Unique Problem – How Do I Figure Out The Statute Of Limitations In A Government Case?

  • Government Agency Claims:

These parties will have sovereign immunity, so aggrieved citizens must follow specific procedures to sue them. A party seeking to claim damages against a government agency or clerk must file their official government papers six months from the damage date.

The papers filed against this public body or office are known as an “Administrative Claim” This procedure requires the complainant to use the government’s official form. If the agency head denies your claim for damages, you can file a lawsuit in court.

Personal Property, Personal Injury, and Wrongful Death

Filing these claims against a government agency or office will mean filing an administrative claim within six months from the injury or death date. California Government Code Section 911.2 contains the statute of limitations to file a personal injury or wrongful death claim against an agency. To learn more about this type of government claim, you should review California Government Code Section 905 and Section 911.2.

  • Actual Property Damages and Breach of Contract. Is an official agency responsible for causing damage to your tangible property, breaching a contract, or creating “any other cause of action?” California Government Code Section 911.2 allows parties up to one year to file an administrative claim form from their insult or injury date.

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California Government Code Section 912.4 contains rules granting the government agency or office an extended period of 45 days for these agents to respond.

What Must I Do If The Agency Does Not Respond to My Claim in 45 Days?

  • Do Not Respond. If the government agency or office does not answer your claim within 45 days, you must file your court lawsuit within six months. In cases where you receive a rejection letter, you will have six months to file a court case from the date you received your denial letter by mail or hand-delivery. Government Code Sections 912.4 and 912.6 contain these guidelines.

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Special Rule: If a public servant violated your federal civil rights, for example, the aggrieved party would have a one-year deadline to sue in court from the date of injury.

When you want to file a legal claim with a court, government agency, or office, a free attorney consultation helps prevent errors in the computation of statute limitations.

*The court self-help resources might be assistive in your case.

CAVEAT: You must know that allowing the statute of limitations to expire means the court clerk will stamp your pleading documents as “received” instead of “filed.” Your next case may be against the lawyer who blew your statute to sue time.

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When is the Statute of Limitations Suspended?

Sometimes the statute of limitations will be suspended by “tolling the statute of limitations.” For example, courts will toll the statute if one of the parties remains imprisoned.

Other parties outside the statute are minors, people out of the country, and insane people. The tolling period ends when a party reaches majority, is released from prison, is returned to the state of California, or no longer remains insane.

After that condition is satisfied, the period of limitations will finally resume.

CAVEAT: Cases that have tolled statute issues and a government office or agency can complicate matters.

What Are Some Less Well-Known Statutes of Limitations?

Personal Property Left

California Code of Civil Procedure section 341a contains the Personal Property Left rules at a hospital, nursing home, sanitarium, hotel, lodging house, apartment, or boarding house claims.

The rule is that the aggrieved party has 90-days to file a claim from the date they vacated the premises.

This type of claim is also known as Medical Malpractice. The plaintiff must file their lawsuits within one year from the date plaintiff is aware of their injury or three years from when they must have known about the injury.

This discovery date will be determined by the earlier date—outlined in California Code of Civil Procedures Section 340.5. California Code of Civil Procedure section 364 requires plaintiffs to give healthcare providers 90 days’ notice before filing their court lawsuit.

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  • 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. California Code of Civil Procedures Section 340c contains the rules requiring a plaintiff to sue within one year from the date of 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. California Code of Civil Procedures Section 337.15 contains the rules requiring a plaintiff to sue within ten years of construction.

  • Claims Against Banks:

If you want to sue your bank for paying a forged check without authorization, you have 12 months to sue from the date the bank paid. California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340 contains the statutory rules.


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    Michael Ehline

    Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.

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