Many legal websites encourage you to “act fast” after a California car accident. There is good reason for this advice: California law only gives you a certain limited amount of time within which to file a lawsuit. The time limitation is contained in California’s statute of limitations, which sets forth not only the time limitation applicable to car accident lawsuits but all other types of civil lawsuits as well (time limitations applicable to criminal cases are addressed in a separate statute of limitations).
Purpose of Statutes of Limitations
Statutes of limitations are designed to provide certainty and finality for individuals whose tortious conduct injured another. Without a statute of limitations, an individual who causes injury to another would live in perpetual fear of a lawsuit being filed against him or her at some unknown time in the future. This can affect the plans and ventures in which the individual would choose to engage. A statute of limitations gives tortfeasors – those who negligently cause injury to others – some degree of certainty in that they know the timeframe within which they can be held to account for their actions. Not only this, but statutes of limitations help ensure that lawsuits are litigated while evidence can still be located and witnesses’ memories are still fresh.
What is California’s Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents?
California law gives injured plaintiffs two years within which to file a car accident lawsuit to seek compensation from an at-fault party. The “clock” begins to run on the date the plaintiff is injured in the car crash. For example, a plaintiff who is injured when another driver runs a stop sign and crashes into the plaintiff’s car on January 1, 2016 will have until January 1, 2018 to file his or her car accident lawsuit. The statute of limitations’ “clock” stops once the plaintiff has filed his or her lawsuit pleadings with the appropriate court.
What if I Didn’t Discover My Injuries Right Away?
Suppose that you do not discover that you were injured in a car accident until months – or even years – after the car crash. Can you still file a car accident lawsuit, even if the statute of limitations has run? Possibly so. California law gives injury plaintiffs one year from the date the injury is discovered within which to file a lawsuit. If you should have discovered your injuries by a certain date (but failed to do so), the statute of limitations would begin to run on this date – not the date you actually discovered your injury.
What Happens if I File My Case After the Statute of Limitations Expires?
If the statute of limitations expires and you file your lawsuit thereafter, the defendant is entitled to raise the fact that the statute of limitations passed as an affirmative defense to your lawsuit. Unless there is an exception to the statute of limitations that applies to your case, the court is bound to dismiss your lawsuit.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations?
There are certain events that “toll” – or stop – the statute of limitations clock from running. If the person who caused your injuries is in jail, in prison, or out of the state, the clock would stop running until the situation changes (for example, he or she is released from jail). A Los Angeles Attorney can help you determine if one or more exceptions applies to your case, but the better practice is to file your lawsuit well before the statute of limitations has run.