You may have the right to obtain compensation after an accident. However, this right does not last forever. California law imposes statutes of limitations on all personal injury claims. The statute of limitations regulates how much time you have to file a civil lawsuit for damages. You can be denied the money you deserve if you fail to file your claim before the statute of limitations expires.
How Does the Statute of Limitations Work?
The statute of limitations will begin to run the moment you are involved in an accident. Think of it as an imaginary countdown clock. The clock will continue to run for a specified period of time, depending on (a) what caused your accident or (b) the type of injury you’ve suffered. Generally speaking, the statute of limitations in a personal injury case will run anywhere between two and eight years.
You must file your personal injury claim with your local court clerk before time runs out. A court can refuse to accept and acknowledge your claim for damages if it is filed after the statute of limitations has expired. As a result, you’ll miss out on getting money that you need and deserve.
Why Does California Impose a Statute of Limitations?
Statutes of limitations are imposed in civil cases to promote fairness and to preserve evidence.
Promote Fairness: Statutes of limitations are intended to promote fairness in civil proceedings. Once the clock starts to run, plaintiffs have a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit. Setting this time limit encourages accident victims to initiate legal proceedings as soon as they realistically can. Without a ticking clock, litigation after an accident could drag on for years. This is not fair to defendants who may or may not be responsible for a plaintiff’s injuries. It’s in the best interest of everyone involved to litigate an injury lawsuit as soon as possible after an accident.
Best Evidence: Evidence plays a critical role in personal injury lawsuits. The longer a plaintiff waits to file a lawsuit, the less reliable the evidence becomes. Memories fade and become less reliable over time. Important details and information can get lost or forgotten as time goes on. Imposing a statute of limitations forces lawsuits to begin within a reasonable amount of time after an accident. Limiting the time that lapses between an accident and litigation helps to ensure that the best evidence will be used in a case.
Statute of Limitations in Orange County Civil Cases
There are several statutes of limitations that could apply to your Orange County personal injury case. The amount of time you have to bring a lawsuit ultimately depends on what type of injury you’ve suffered.
Most personal injury cases – including those involving car accidents, slips and falls, and wrongful death – will be governed by the statute of limitations imposed by California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1. In these situations, accident victims generally have two years from the date of an accident to file a lawsuit for damages.
Other statutes of limitations that may apply to personal injury cases in Orange County include:
- Damage to Personal Property: Two years from the date of the accident.
- Medical Malpractice: Three years from the incident, or one year from the date of discovery, whichever is earlier.
- Birth Injury: Claims must be filed no later than the date of the child’s 8th birthday.
- False Imprisonment: One year from the date of the incident.
- Libel or Slander: One year from the date of the incident.
- Fraud: Three years from the fraudulent act.
- Trespassing: Three years from the date of the incident.
- Legal Malpractice: Four years from the date of the incident, or one year from the date of discovery, whichever is earlier.
- Government Claims: Six months from the date of the accident.
It’s important to know which statute of limitations will apply to your specific case. Missing the deadline could prevent you from getting the money you deserve. Speak with an experienced Orange County personal injury lawyer to protect your right to recover compensation.
Tolling the Statute of Limitations
Sometimes circumstances beyond your control will prevent you from filing a lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations. In these situations, it wouldn’t be fair to deny you the right to recover compensation. To promote fairness, the statute of limitations can be tolled. Tolling basically means that the statute of limitations is paused for a period of time.
The statute of limitations in your case may be tolled if:
- You were under the age of 18 at the time of your accident
- The defendant in your case can’t be located
- The defendant in your case is out of the state
- The defendant in your case is in prison
- The defendant in your case dies, or
- There was a reasonable delay in the discovery of your injury.
The statute of limitations will begin to run once the tolling factor – or thing that’s holding up your case – is no longer an issue.