Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury in California

Samuel Nordean, ESQ. Founding partner of Nordean Law, APC
Samuel Nordean, ESQ. Founding partner of Nordean Law, APC

Samuel ‘Sam’ Nordean is a founding partner of Nordean Law, APC. He is passionate about standing up for people who struggle with accidental injuries and mistreatment from insurance companies. He has a Bachelor's and Master of Science degrees in Biochemistry from Portland State University. He got his Juris Doctor degree from Chapman University School of Law. Sam started Nordean Law to commit to helping people who cannot fight for themselves. His strengths are in representing car accident, fatal accidents, negligence cases, and liability accidents.

Statutes of limitations for personal injury in California ensure that legal processes are fair and equitable. For courts to gain the correct understanding of the facts, they need to have evidence and witnesses available. As time passes, witnesses relocate, physical evidence is lost, and memories degrade.

If no statute of limitations existed, plaintiffs could file suits for incidents many years or decades in the past. The passage of time would make it difficult or impossible for the defense to find counter witnesses, produce physical evidence, and access related documentation. 

A fair trial requires timeliness.

What Is the Statute of Limitations?

California sets the statute of limitations for personal injury cases at two years. This timeframe gives plaintiffs plenty of time to recover from the initial shock of the injury, consult attorneys, and gather evidence. 

However, as we over later, California law provides exceptions in certain situations and extends the statute of limitations for certain types of claims.

When And Why The Statute of Limitations Begins To Run?

In most cases, the statute of limitations begins to run on the day of the injury. For instance, if you suffer broken bones, lacerations, and eye injuries in an auto accident, you have two years from the day it happened to bring a lawsuit.

However, certain circumstances call for the tolling of the personal injury statute of limitations. Tolling halts the clock for the period of time the exceptional circumstance exists. The clock runs again when the circumstance no longer applies.

For example, a person with a brain injury after a car accident may spend many months in the hospital, unconscious or incoherent. Clearly, this patient cannot make any decisions until he regains his mental faculties. Therefore, his two-year statute of limitations is tolled until he regains legal competence.

Types of Personal Injury With Different Statutes of Limitations

California law provides extended statutes of limitations for personal injury cases based on particular situations. If your claim includes one of the following, you may need to adjust your timetable:

The Defendant Is a Government Entity

Many personal injury lawsuit name a government entity as the defendant. For instance, a plaintiff may have been struck by a municipal bus, making the municipality that runs the line responsible. In another instance, a person may have tripped on a hazard left in a walkway at a county office, making the county responsible.

Government entities catch a break when it comes to the personal injury statute of limitations. Your statute of limitations is cut to six months, and you may need to file a complaint with the agency before becoming eligible to sue. However, tolling may apply to the shorter statute of limitations if you are incapacitated or some other exception exists.

Child Sexual Abuse Cases

Children are vulnerable because they have a difficult time stopping a crime committed by an adult and may be scared to report the matter to responsible people. Because these crimes are so difficult to bring forward and heinous, the California legislature extends the statute of limitation to 22 years after the child turns 18. 

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is another category of crime that poses difficulties for plaintiffs in meeting the two-year statute of limitations rule. Therefore, California allows victims of domestic violence to file a claim within three years of the last incident of violence.


Some personal injury cases are based on the commission of a felony, such as drunk driving or assault. Because the civil and criminal systems work separately, you can bring a case even if no conviction results.

However, if a conviction does occur, you have a year after the conviction to file a lawsuit, even if the criminal proceedings took much longer than two years.

California law extends the statute of limitations to ten years after the date of a convict’s discharge or parole for heinous crimes. These include rape, murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, and other major felonies.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice cases also have a three-year statute of limitations from the day the injury occurred. However, if you were unaware of the injury until later, the clock starts on the day you become cognizant of the problem.

Exceptions To The Statute of Limitations For Personal Injuries In California

Regardless of the circumstances of the injury, state law automatically tolls the clock if one of these circumstances applies:

Delayed Discovery

Some injuries take days, months, or years to become apparent. Courts refer to this as delayed discovery. When delayed discovery occurs, your two-year statute of limitations begins when you discover the issue.

Minor Plaintiffs

Minors have an automatically tolled clock until they turn 18. Then, if no other exceptions apply, they have two years to bring a civil action.

Defendant Left The State

California law requires the service of a lawsuit to be conducted within state lines. Therefore, if the suit cannot be served because the defendant left the state, the clock stops until the defendant returns to the state and can be served.

How Long Does Someone Have To Sue In A California Personal Injury Case?

How long someone has to bring a personal injury case depends on the circumstances. Though two years from the date of injury is most common, it’s important to know if your case qualifies for any exceptions.

Contact Top-Rated Law Firm In California

Always contact a personal injury lawyer right away after you are injured or become aware of an injury. The attorney can advise you on how the statute of limitations applies to your case and ensure it is never missed.

Contact Nordean Law for a free consultation.

FAQ’s of Statute of Limitations For Personal Injury In California

Medical malpractice qualifies as personal injury. It happens when a doctor provides a diagnosis or treatment that departs from accepted medical standards, and the departure harms the patient.

A bad outcome alone does not create a medical malpractice case. A deviation from accepted standards that causes a bad outcome does.

Many avenues exist for finding a California personal injury attorney. Word of mouth is a great method if you know anyone who has used a personal injury attorney. Former clients can give you unique insight into the experience.

Also, if you know people in the legal field, they may be able to recommend well-regarded personal injury lawyers.

Contacting your country’s bar association is an excellent way to find names and ensure they are in good standing.

The Internet makes it simple to search for strong personal injury attorneys and firms. Many referral websites can furnish names. Also, many websites have attorney reviews from former clients. You can also glean information from attorney websites that tells you if a firm fits your criteria.

California law provides for the tolling of the statute of limitations when the plaintiff is a minor, discovery of the injury is delayed, or the defendant leaves the state.

California allows for the extension of the statue of limitations for certain types of cases, including child sexual abuse, domestic violence, injuries based on felonies, and medical malpractice.

The statute of limitations ensures that the legal process is fair and equitable. For courts to determine facts, they need witnesses, physical evidence, and documentary evidence, all of which can be lost over time. In addition, the defense may be unable to prepare itself if events took place many years ago. Potential witnesses and evidence may have long disappeared.

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