The California Accident Injury Statute of Limitations is contained in Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1. It applies to accident cases, injury claims and wrongful death situations. This is the statute that tells how long, i.e., how many years a person has to file a lawsuit and sue someone who has negligently caused an injury to or death of another in an accident. Those cases to which this statute applies include accidents of all kinds - auto, truck, motorcycle, bike, car, pedestrian, bicycle, slip and falls, dog bites and wrongful deaths. The statute is also applicable to actions for assault and battery caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another and to actions for defective products, also known as product liability cases.
California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1 provides:
335.1. Within two years: An action for assault, battery, or injury to, or for the death of, an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.
The statute thus means that an individual has only two years in which to file a lawsuit for their damages resulting from a personal injury or wrongful death. When the statutory time, in this case, two years, has passed, a person loses the right to file a lawsuit for their damages or other relief.
When does the statutory time period start to run? Normally a statute of limitations starts on the date of the injury. However, there can be exceptions to the rule, for instance in medical malpractice cases.
General exceptions to the rule include the following. If the party at fault for the accident is a public entity such as a city, county, state, school, or public transport service, just to give a few examples, a claim must be made against the public entity within 6 months. There are additional time limitations in which to file a lawsuit after a public entity denies the 6 month claim. There are also different time periods for cases based upon exposure to asbestos.
The statute of limitations can also be tolled (stopped from running for some period of time) if the injured person was not mentally competent at the time of the accident but this does not mean that because an injured person was hospitalized, on medication or drunk or even unconscious for some time that the statute will be extended in these circumstances.
Minors have a longer period of time to sue. The statute is extended for minors and they may bring an action for a period of time after their 18th birthday. To be safe, any such lawsuits should be filed by the injured person who was a minor at the time of their accident, within one year after their 18th birthday if it has not been filed previously by the parents of the minor. Also to be safe, any claims against public entities should still be filed by the parents of the minor within 6 months of the accident. Although many attorneys believe that a minor has two years after their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit due to the change in the statute of limitations for adults some years ago, our advice is not to wait that long in case the statute is applied oddly by some court down the road, especially to accidents occurring prior to the change in the statute.
There are different statutes of limitations which apply to medical malpractice cases and the rules for minors in such cases are also different. As our law firm does not specialize in medical malpractice, it is best to consult with a medical malpractice attorney regarding those statutes of limitations.
The statute of limitations is also different for cases involving childhood sexual abuse and cases involving libel, slander, false imprisonment, fraud and the many other non-tort areas of law, such as in contract and real estate actions, debt collections and in criminal cases.
A claim for damages for a personal injury, such as an auto accident, can, of course be made at any time after an accident to an insurance company or the person who caused the injury. However, if the matter has not been settled before the period of time in the statute - two years, the right of the injured person to be paid for their injuries and to file a lawsuit will be extinguished. As an example, if a person notifies an insurance company of their injuries soon after an accident but the matter is not settled by the time the two year period is up and no lawsuit is filed by the individual within the two years, the insurance company will have no obligation to pay the injured person, even though a claim was made and even if there were negotiations, if there was no settlement.
Due to how insurance companies treat individuals without an attorney, however, a person injured in an auto accident should always retain an attorney to represent them at the earliest possible date after an accident. Unless you haven’t been injured and won’t be needing medical treatment, an experienced and reputable personal injury lawyer will almost always be able to obtain a considerably larger settlement from an insurance company and a larger amount for you, even after the attorney’s fees and costs are paid.