California Statute of Limitations, Civil Actions

The California Statute of Limitations for civil actions sets a time limit after an injury or civil wrong occurs, during which an injured party can file a lawsuit. After that period of time expires, the injured party is no longer permitted to file a claim in a California state court to litigate that matter. The statute ensures that lawsuits that have merit and worthy of being heard are filed within a reasonable time or not at all.

How Does the Statute of Limitations Operate?

The period of time to file a claim will vary depending upon the type of incident that occurred. A claim against a doctor for medical malpractice may be for a different length of time than against an accountant for negligence or fraud. The California statute of limitations can generally be found within the California Code of Civil Procedure and covers the following rules and exceptions in greater detail.

When does the California Statute of Limitations Begin?

Other than for specific exceptions, the California statute of limitations generally begins to run at the time when a “cause of action arises” – in other words, at the time when an injury occurs that would qualify for a lawsuit to be filed in a California state court.

What is the Discovery Rule?

There are times when a person is unable to discover that they have been injured. For example, fraud that is concealed by an accountant and is not easily discoverable or a medical condition resulting from a doctor’s misdiagnosis that can only be detected after the patient’s health deteriorates. It wouldn’t be fair or reasonable to require the injured party to file a lawsuit when they could not have detected the injury. As a result, in some instances the California statute of limitations begins to run from the time the injured party discovers or should have discovered that they have been injured.

Delaying or Tolling the California Statute of Limitations

In certain circumstances, fairness would require that the statute of limitations be delayed for a period of time. A party may not have the ability to bring a case even though they are aware of an injury or damages. Delaying or “tolling” the statute of limitations typically occurs when the plaintiff is “disabled” – such as a minor child or a person who is mentally incompetent or bankrupt. Once the disability ends, the statute of limitations begins to run.

Calculating the length of time that a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit is complicated and involves many factors and exceptions. Parties that have suffered significant injuries or damages may wish to consult with a California attorney to ensure that all claims and notices are filed within the time limits set forth by law.

California Statute of Limitations for Civil Actions

Personal Injury and Negligence

2 years. Use the Discovery Rule. See §335.1

Wrongful Death

2 years, with some exceptions.

Medical Malpractice

3 years generally – it is 3 years from the date of the injury, 1 year from the date of discovery, whichever occurs first except when there is a foreign objects issue which runs from the date the object is or should have been discovered. Infants less than 6 years old have 3 years maximum or prior to age 8 to start an action, unless tolled by fraud or collusion or other circumstances. The 3 year statute of limitations is an exception to the wrongful death statute which is for only 1 year. Elder abuse cases are 2 years. Veterinarian caused injuries or death of an animal – 1 year. See California Code of Civil Procedure §340 for current and specific rules.

Legal and Professional Malpractice

1 year – use the discovery rule, but limited up to 4 years from the date of wrongful act. See California Code of Civil Procedure §340.6.

Products Liability

2 years with the Discovery Rule.

Assault and Battery

2 years.

False Imprisonment

1 year.

Comparative Negligence

A pure comparative negligence division applies (each party assigned a percentage.)

Contracts

Written contracts 4 years. Oral contracts 2 years. See California Code of Civil Procedure  §339

Fraud

3 years – but see California Code of Civil Procedure §338

Personal Property Damages

3 years

Trespass

3 years.

Libel / Slander / Defamation

1 year from the date of publication (or the date when spoken). See California Code of Civil Procedure §340

Debt Collection Accounts

4 years. See California Code of Civil Procedure §337

Collection of Rent

4 years. See California Code of Civil Procedure §337

Judgment Enforcement

10 years – see California Code of Civil Procedure  §337.5

Disabilities

Generally, the statute of limitations may not run until the disability ceases (infancy, insanity, imprisonment, incompetence) ends except with regard to damages cases for confinement, actions against public entities or other circumstances where required by law. Infants have 2 years from age 18 to commence action. If a plaintiff dies the statute of limitations is extended by an additional 6 months and, if the defendant dies, the statute of limitations is tolled an additional year.

Liability of State and Municipalities

6 months and runs from the date a notice of claim is served on the public entity. Sovereign immunity has been abolished.

No-Fault Insurance

None.

Consumer Fraud Complaints

California Department of Consumer Protection

Phone: (916)445-1254
Toll Free in California: (800)952-5210

Please Take Note: The statute of limitations laws presented are strictly provided to you “as-is”. While we believe that the legal information is accurate as of the date created, we cannot and do not provide any guarantee, analysis or conclusions. The law may have changed since this article was published. The only way to ensure that the statute of limitations law you are reading is up to date and applies to your specific issue, is to have a legal consultation with an attorney licensed to practice law in the state of California.

Michael M Wechsler, Esq.

Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.

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