When you have been injured in a personal injury accident, you must act swiftly to protect your legal rights. California law permits you to seek compensation from an individual or entity if that individual’s or entity’s carelessness contributed to your injuries and the associated losses through a personal injury lawsuit. However, if you wait too long before seeking compensation you will run afoul of California’s statute of limitations.
The statute of limitations effectively starts a countdown “clock” on the date of your personal injury accident. So long as you file your lawsuit before the clock runs out, you will not violate the statute of limitations. If the clock runs out before your lawsuit is filed, however, you may find yourself unable to seek any compensation at all, no matter how severe your injuries.
What is the Purpose of a Statute of Limitations?
Each state has a statute of limitations for various types of civil and criminal lawsuits. These statutes have as their stated purpose swift and efficient resolution of cases. A statute of limitations helps ensure that lawsuits are filed promptly while evidence pertinent to the lawsuit can still be located and witnesses are still familiar with the subject matter of the lawsuit. A statute of limitations also keeps the future plans of potential tortfeasors (those who could be alleged to have caused another person injury or loss through carelessness) from being forever disrupted or “put on hold” due to the threat of litigation. A statute of limitations allows injury victims a certain window within which they must bring their lawsuits.
What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in California?
California law gives injury victims and plaintiffs two years from the date of their injury incident within which to bring a lawsuit against the individual(s) responsible for their injuries. This “clock” begins running on the date of the injury accident and, in most cases, does not stop or pause. For example, an individual who is injured in Los Angeles on December 31, 2015 will have until December 31, 2017 to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Suppose that the victim is accidentally knocked off a ladder on December 31, 2015. However, medical tests do not discover any damage or injury attributable to the fall until December 1, 2017. By this time, most of the time on the victim’s “clock” has already run. In this case, the law would give the victim one year from the date of the discovery of the injury – until December 1, 2018 – to file his or her personal injury case.
(Note, though, that if the victim should have discovered his or her injury sooner but did not engage in reasonable behavior to uncover the existence of the injury, this extension will run from the date the injury should have been discovered, not the date of actual discovery. So, using the example above, if the victim should have discovered the injury on June 1, 2017, then the victim will only have until June 1, 2018 in which to file his or her lawsuit.)
Does the Statute of Limitations Stop for Any Reason?
If the alleged tortfeasor is unable to be located, or if he or she is in prison or in another state, the statute of limitations clock may be “tolled” or stopped until those circumstances change. This can give an injury victim some additional time within which to file his or her lawsuit. The better practice, however, is not to wait until the last minute to file your lawsuit and contact a California Personal Injury Attorney.