What does the term “Statute of Limitations” mean?
A statute of limitations is a law which places a time limit on pursuing a legal remedy in relation to wrongful conduct that causes an injury. After the expiration of the statutory period, unless a legal exception applies, the injured person loses the right to file a lawsuit seeking money damages or other relief.
Although people often speak of “the statute of limitations”, in fact there are many statutes which apply limitations periods to civil actions. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep track of the various statutes and their exceptions. Thus it is a very good idea for somebody who is concerned about losing their right to sue as a result of the expiration of the statutory limitations period to consult with a qualified lawyer, who can help determine which statute applies, and help preserve the right to recover damages.
What About Specific Civil Cases
The following periods represent a small sample of the statutory limitations periods in California. Please note that it may be possible to bring multiple causes of action from a single incident of wrongful conduct, and thus even if it appears that the relevant statute of limitations has run it may remain possible to bring a different claim. Also, there may be an exception to the standard limitations period that applies to any given situation. The following list is provided by way of example. If you wish to know how the statute of limitations applies to a specific situation, you should verify the statutory time period and its relevance to your situation with a qualified California lawyer.
- Legal malpractice: 1 year from date of discovery, to a maximum of four years from the date of the wrongful act.
- Medical malpractice: 3 years from the date of the injury, or one year from the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered the injury, whichever occurs first. If the medical malpractice action is based upon the presence of a foreign object found inside the plaintiff’s body, the statute of limitations does not start to run until the plaintiff discovers, or should have discovered, the object. The periods of limitation for medical malpractice apply to minors six years of age and older.
- Personal Injury: 2 years.
- Fraud: 3 years.
- Libel / Slander / Defamation: 1 year.
- Injury to Personal Property: 3 years.
- Product Liability: 2 years.
- Contracts: Written, 4 years; Oral, 2 years.
When Does a Status of Limitations Start?
A statute of limitations is said to start running at the time a claim accrues. Ordinarily, that is the time at which an injury is suffered.
What if I Don’t Know The Cause of My Injury or When I Was Injured?
Sometimes it is not reasonably possible for a person to discover the cause of an injury, or even to know that an injury has occurred, until considerably after the act which causes the injury. For example, an error in the drafting of a will might not be noticed until the will is being executed, decades after it was drafted, or a financial planner’s embezzlement might not be noticed for years due to the issuance of false statements of account.
When it applies, the “discovery rule” permits a suit to be filed within a certain period of time after the injury is discovered, or reasonably should have been discovered. The discovery rule does not apply to all civil injuries, and sometimes the period of time for bringing a claim post-discovery can be short, so it is important to seek legal assistance quickly in the event of the late discovery of an injury.
Can the Statute of Limitations be extended?
In addition to late discovery, it may be possible to avoid the harsh result of a statute of limitation by arguing that the statute has been “tolled”. When it is said that a statute is “tolled”, it means that something has stopped the statute from running for a period of time. Typical reasons for tolling a statute of limitations include minority (the victim of the injury was a minor at the time the injury occurred), mental incompetence (the victim of the injury was not mentally competent at the time the injury occurred), and the defendant’s bankruptcy (the “automatic stay” in bankruptcy ordinarily tolls the statute of limitations until such time as the bankruptcy is resolved or the stay is lifted).
Under California law, except in cases of medical malpractice, a minor has two years from the date of his or her 18th birthday to file a tort claim. For medical malpractice actions involving minors below the age of six, the action must be filed within three years of the date of the injury or before the minor’s eighth birthday, whichever period is greater.
A Defendant’s absence from the state may allow an extension of the Statute of Limitations. In a Medical Malpractice case, the Statute of Limitations may be extended by up to 90 days by providing a notice to the Defendant of your intention to file a lawsuit.
In the event that a Defendant is a Governmental Entity, such as a state, city, county, or other governmental district, you must serve the entity a government claim form within 6 months of the injury. A Government Entity is not always easily recognizable or identifiable, but failure to know that the Defendant in a case was a Government Entity is not an excuse.
Important Notice: The above listed notes on California’s “statute of limitations” laws are merely a summary. This information is believed accurate as of the date it was written, and IS NOT intended to provide a complete analysis of statutes limitations; it may not reflect subsequent changes in the law, and it does not constitute an analysis of your specific case. For a full review of California’s “statute of limitations” law, or for a determination of how the law applies to a specific incident or injury, please consult a qualified attorney licensed to practice in the state of California.
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