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How Long After an Accident Can You Sue in California?

As with many legal questions, there is a general answer to the question, “How long after an accident can you sue in California?” and there are exceptions to the general rule. The deadlines for filing any kind of lawsuit are called “statutes of limitations.” Depending on the kind of lawsuit you want to file, like a breach of contract, a will contest, or a personal injury lawsuit, you might have as little as a few months or as long as several years to file your lawsuit.

Statutes of limitations can be complicated, and missing the deadline could cost you the right to take legal action or to pursue compensation from the party who wronged you. It is best to talk to a California personal injury attorney about your case rather than trying to learn the law and handle your injury claim on your own.

The General Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury in California

For most personal injury accident claims in California, state law (CCP § 335.1) gives you up to two years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit seeking compensation from the party whose negligence harmed you. This does not mean you should wait until the two-year anniversary of the accident to walk into a lawyer’s office. Your attorney will need to investigate the situation, determine who all the potential defendants might be, and draft the paperwork the court requires for filing a lawsuit.

You do not want to get tricked by the insurance company’s claims adjuster into missing the deadline. This tactic gets used often because most non-lawyers do not know the deadline for filing their case, but you can be certain that the claims adjuster does know that date. Negotiating with the defendant’s insurance company does not satisfy the statute of limitations.

You might think that you were close to settling your case, but then suddenly, the claims adjuster stops returning your phone calls and responding to your emails. Eventually, you get a letter that informs you that the defendant and the insurance company have no legal responsibility to pay you any money at all because the statute of limitations passed. In that situation, the law will likely bar you forever from getting compensation for your losses.

How Much Time You Have to Bring Legal Action Against a Government Entity in California

If the negligence of a government organization (like a city, county, state, or a government agency) caused the accident, you only have up to six months to file a claim with that entity, according to GOV § 911.2. You must exhaust administrative remedies like filing a claim before you can take the case to court. If you skip the claim process with a government entity and then file a lawsuit for your damages, the court will likely dismiss your lawsuit.

The California Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice deadlines are particularly complicated. Under CIV § 340.5, you have to file a medical malpractice lawsuit within one year of the date on which the error happened or three years from the date of the incident.

What Happens if Someone Died Because of a Personal Injury Accident?

The wrongful death statute of limitations is the same as for a personal injury case. Under CCP § 335.1, you have two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Are There Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations?

Yes, sometimes the law allows a little extra time, as in a case in which a minor got injured, but you should not count on getting an extension. You will want to talk to a California personal injury attorney about the correct deadline for your personal injury case. For legal assistance contact our office today, we offer a free consultation.