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How long do I have to file a personal injury claim?

Personal Injury

The time limits for pursuing damages from a personal injury accident can vary in California because of certain exceptions to the standard two-year deadline to file a claim.

First, what is considered a personal injury in California? According to the  Code of Civil Procedure, an injury to a person is one caused by a wrongful act or neglect. So you can sue an individual whether or not the injury was intentional or was a result of negligence.

Either way, the legal deadline for filing a lawsuit — called “the statute of limitations” — is two years for personal injury claims. This deadline includes seeking damages from a defendant in a settlement. So a defendant has no legal responsibility to settle a personal injury claim after the two year period has passed.

However, there are exceptions that the California courts recognize. These rest on delayed discovery — the fact that a specific circumstance stopped you from filing the suit within the deadline.

When can I file a personal injury claim after the two-year deadline?

There are specific exceptions to the two-year statute of limitations that the California Code allows. Here, we take a look at each one.

Let’s say that you’re browsing at a fabric store and a  heavy bolt of cloth falls from the top of a high stack, bruising your shoulder. It hurts for a minute or two, but then the pain fades, and soon, so does the bruise.

But three years later, you’re facing surgery on your rotator cuff because you can’t lift that arm without feeling a sharp pain. An MRI shows a badly healed injury exactly where that roll of textile struck.

Because not all injuries are immediately evident, the state of California extends the statute of limitations to one year in two circumstances:

  • You can file a personal injury lawsuit up to one year from the date you discovered the injury.
  • You can file a personal injury lawsuit up to one year from the date you discovered that negligence caused the injury.

The third exception to the two-year filing deadline is if the defendant leaves California before you file the lawsuit. Maybe it took a few weeks for you to realize the injury had caused lasting damage. But in that time, the store went out of business and the owner moved out of state.

Because the claim can’t move forward until the plaintiff has been provided a copy of the papers filed in court, California compensates for this situation:

  • The clock stops on the two-year deadline while the defendant is out of state.When the party returns to California or papers are served out of state, the clock starts ticking again.

A fourth exception relates to age and disability. The California Code recognizes both circumstances by extending the statute of limitations:

  • The two-year deadline for filing may begin when a minor reaches the age of a legal adult.(However, if injuries occurred before or during birth, the claim must be filed within six years.)
  • The time when the plaintiff is unable to make sound decisions because of a disability is not included in the two-year statute of limitations.

It pays not to wait to file a personal injury claims

The exceptions California allows to the two-year statute of limitations can be challenged by the defendant in court. If you think another party’s actions may have caused you injury, you should speak with an attorney immediately to see all your options. LawPLA specializes in personal injury claims and will make sure your claim is fairly heard in court.Schedule a free consultation using our online contact page or give us a call. We’ll take it from there.


PLEASE NOTE: This is not a representation, warranty, or guarantee of a future result or outcome. Every case is different just like every one of our clients.

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