How Long do I have to File My Personal Injury Claim in California?
California statutes of limitations are deadlines by which personal injury and employment civil claims. They vary depending upon the type of claim, against whom the claim is brought and other factors. I thought I would summarize some of the more important ones as follows:
Every state has these laws which set forth deadlines for filing lawsuits for civil damages. The purpose of these enactments is to ensure that “stale” claims where evidence (including witnesses, documents, etc.) are not brought and to encourage people to bring claims in a timely manner.
- California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1: States that any claim for assault, battery or injury to another due to negligence, including wrongful death claims must be brought within two years of the date of the incident giving rise to the action. There are some exceptions to this rule if the matter is not discovered within the two years, however, this should NEVER be counted upon and one should always try to file a lawsuit for any of these types of claims within two years from the event causing injury or death.
- California Code of Civil Procedure Section 338: Requires any action to recover the value of property or cost of repair, including damage to motor vehicles, be filed within 3 years.
- California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.5: States that any claim for medical malpractice causing injury or death against any health care provider (including doctors, hospitals, nurses, nursing homes and other medical facilities) must be filed within 1 year of the discovery of the medical negligence).
- California Government Code Section 911.2: States that actions against government entities such as Cities, Towns, Counties, the State or any related departments or divisions must first file an administrative claim (often called a Government Tort Claim) within 6 months of the incident causing injury or death. If this claim is denied (which it most often is) you would only have an additional 6 months to file a civil action from the date the denial was mailed out. If the claim is not denied, the aggrieved party may have up to two years to file suit.
- California Code of Civil Procedure 337 and 339: Sometimes claims for personal injury rely upon oral or written contracts for their basis. Section 337 provides for a four year statute of limitation on written contracts and section 339 provides for a two year deadline for oral contracts. These run from the date of the breach or discovery of the breach of the agreement.
- Step 1: Most wrongful discharge of employment actions arise out of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which is codified in the Government Code. Most (but not all) of these types of claims require an “exhaustion of administrative remedies.” This is similar to the government claim process described above but, more streamlined. An initial claim is filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The party has the option to allow that entity to pursue investigation and prosecution of the claims on their behalf or to request a “right to sue” and a case closure so that the matter can be pursued by a private attorney. The deadline for filing this claim is one year from the date of termination or other “adverse employment action”.
- Step 2: From the date of the issuance of the Notice of Case Closure and right to sue, the claimant has one year to file a lawsuit in court.
For claims arising out of other areas such as unpaid wages (including overtime), and for defamation or violation of the California Business and Professions code or the CA Labor Code, the deadlines range between 1 and four years. Every case should be examined for all potential claims and deadlines.
If any of these deadlines are “blown”, a party may lose any and all rights to recovery. This may seem harsh but, it is the law. Sometimes even more important than these final deadlines is the need for prompt investigation and preservation of evidence so that a claim is not lost or diminished in value due to waiting. In addition, failure to seek both prompt medical attention and legal advice in personal injury claims can lead to a significant reduction in how defendants and, more importantly, their insurance carriers value the claims. For all these reasons, it is important to seek out the advice of a lawyer as immediately as possible.
Legal Deadlines for Filing Civil Lawsuits in California