California statute of limitations Attorneys

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A personal injury statute of limitations is a type of law that places a time limit on an injured person being able to take action regarding a personal injury claim. In most cases, after the statutory period has expired, the injured person loses their right to seek damages or any other compensation via a personal injury claim – not taking into account legal exceptions. In other words, a person only has a specific amount of time to file a personal injury claim.

If they don’t file within this allotted timeline, whether they are unable to or simply don’t know that there is a time limit, the court won’t allow them to seek compensation for a personal injury. The state of California has its own unique set of rules about statutes of limitations on personal injury claims.



Although the general concept is typically referred to as ‘the statute of limitations,’there are actually many statutes which can apply limitation periods to civil cases. There isn’t just one statute that lays out the limitations for all civil cases. It is a good idea to consult with a qualified attorney who can best advise you as to which statute may be applicable to your case, allowing you the best chance of recovering damages that you may be entitled to. At the May Firm, we want to help to ensure that you get your day in court!

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Professional/legal malpractice – from the date of discovery, one year, with a maximum of four years from the date of the wrongdoing.

Medical malpractice – three years from the injury date, or one year from when the injury was first discovered (whichever applies first).

Personal injury – two years.

Defamation (libel or slander) – one year.

Fraud – three years.

Damage to personal property – three years.

Contracts – written, four years; oral, two years.

Product liability – two years.


Below, you will find just a small representation of some of the statutory limitation periods applying to cases filed under California law. It should be noted that it is possible to bring forward multiple actions against a single example of wrongdoing or misconduct, so even if one statute of limitations has come into play, another claim could be initiated and litigated. Some standard limitation periods can also have exceptions depending on the situation.


The main difference between a personal injury statute of limitations and a statute of repose is that under a statute of repose, it is impossible to file a lawsuit after the statutory period has expired, even if another injury were to occur in that time.


A personal injury statute of limitations will begin running at the time the claim accrues, which is usually the time the injury first occurred. Even if the claim is filed six months after the fact, the claim would still be from the injury date – this is called accrual. If you were to be injured in a car accident and file a claim six months later, the statute of limitations would have begun to run on the day that you were injured in the accident.


It is also possible to shorten a period of statutory limitations via a contract. This may be in the form of an employment contract which requires any claim to be filed within one year of the wrongful conduct. California courts often uphold these (sometimes sneaky) clauses, especially when they relate to business transactions, so be careful about what you sign! You may miss out on a substantially longer statute of limitations.


Sometimes it is very difficult, if not completely impossible, for someone to find the cause of injury, or to even be aware that a wrongdoing has occurred, until much later on. This could be weeks, months or even years after the fact, such as in the case of a wrongly drafted will or embezzlement from a member of staff or family lawyer. Not all injuries are obvious when they first occur. Whatever the case may be, a ‘discovery rule’ can be placed to allow a suit to be filed within a more applicable time period. It is important to understand that this is not applicable to all civil injuries and unfortunately, sometimes it is not possible to acquire the proper legal assistance before the time expires.


Tolling is a way to bend the rules of a personal injury statute of limitations slightly, by stopping the clock on the statute for a period of time. Tolling a statute of limitations is comparable to pressing the pause button on a remote. Common reasons for tolling a statute of limitations include a victim of an injury being a minor at the time the injury occurred, a mentally incompetent victim (who was not mentally competent at the time the injury was sustained) and bankruptcy of the defendant. Bankruptcy of the defendant, in particular, details an ‘automatic stay’ that tolls the statute of limitation until either the stay has been lifted or the bankruptcy has been resolved.

According to California law – except for cases of medical malpractice – a minor usually has two years after their 18th birthday in order to file a tort claim. In medical malpractice claims when the minor is under six years of age, an action must be filed within a total of three years after the date of the injury, or before their eighth birthday.

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If you want to explore filing a personal injury claim, contact the May Firm today! We look forward to hearing from you! The May Firm has offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Fresno, and Bakersfield.