How Long Do You Have to Make a Claim For a Personal Injury In California

If you’ve been in a car accident, truck accident, slip and fall, a dog bite, or suffered any other personal injury due to someone’s negligence in California, you may be wondering how long you have to make a claim for compensation. Under California law, you have a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit to recover compensation. This time limit, known as the “statute of limitations,” can vary based on the type of injury and circumstances of the case. Here’s an overview of how the statute of limitations applies to personal injury claims in California.

Filing an Insurance Claim vs. Filing a Lawsuit - What's the Difference?

First, let’s discuss a technicality regarding the word “claim” which is important to our discussion. If you have been injured in a car accident and you were not at fault, you may be entitled to compensation. So you would have a valid personal injury “claim” against the at-fault driver. However, there is an important distinction between making a claim with an insurance company versus filing a lawsuit claim. We want to clarify this nuance since the word “claim” can mean different things in different contexts when we are talking about personal injury cases. 

Making a claim with an insurance company after a car accident involves simply filling out a form with the other side’s insurance company. This allows you to seek compensation for damages like medical bills, lost wages, vehicle repairs, etc. An insurance adjuster will investigate the claim and determine fault based on the evidence. The adjuster will then make a settlement offer if the policy covers the damages. It is important to note that these types of informal claims with an insurance company do not involve filing a lawsuit or going to court, so they are technically not subject to the statute of limitations. With that said, these informal claims still have to be filed within the statute of limitations period so that insurance companies will consider them.

If an insurance claim is denied or you are not satisfied with a settlement offer, the next step would be filing a lawsuit with the court. When we are talking about filing a claim within the statute of limitations, this is typically what we are talking about. This actually involves filing a lawsuit and litigating the case in court. The filing of a claim with the court is subject to the statute of limitations in California, and if you miss the deadline you will be forever barred from pursuing your damages, which means you have no right to compensation. So it is very important to make sure you do not miss the deadline to file a lawsuit for your personal injury case. 

Many people file their own claim with the insurance company and negotiate back and forth with the adjuster. They often mistakenly think that they have 2 years to file a lawsuit if they are not satisfied with the adjuster’s decision regarding their claim. At least this is what the insurance companies implicitly want you to believe as well. But the reality is that in California, the statute of limitations begins to run or accrue from the date of the injury, not from the date of the adjuster’s decision. So if you waited 2 years after the insurance adjuster made a decision on your claim and then filed your lawsuit, your claim would likely be dismissed by the judge because it would be untimely, since it’s outside the statute of limitation. It is important to remember that in personal injury cases in California, all statutes of limitations begin to run from the date of the injury, which could be the date of the accident, the date of the slip and fall, or the date of the dog bite.

General Rule for Personal Injury Claims in California

The general statute of limitations for most personal injury claims in California is two years from the date of injury. So you have 2 years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. This includes injuries from slip-and-fall accidents, truck accidents, car accidents, or dog bites.

For example, if you were injured in a car accident on January 1, 2022, you would have until January 1, 2024 to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. If you miss this two-year deadline to file a lawsuit in court, you would be barred forever from seeking compensation. It’s really that simple, yet important. That is why it’s important to tell your attorney the exact date of an accident.

Exception for Minor’s Personal Injury Claims

The first major exception to the 2 year statute of limitation is for minors under the age of 18. California’s statute of limitations is extended for minors until their 20th birthday

For instance, if a 10-year-old suffers a dog bite injury on June 1, 2022, they would have until their 20th birthday on June 1, 2032 to file a dog bite lawsuit against the dog owner. This gives minors additional time to pursue legal action in personal injury claims in California. 

There are some important public policy reasons why minors have an extended statute of limitations to file personal injury lawsuits in California, such as: 

  1. Minors are legally viewed as lacking full adult capacity to make decisions, especially important decisions relating to their health and safety. 
  2. Minors may not immediately understand the full impact of their injuries. For example, a child might not recognize how a dog bite could cause permanent scars or trauma. The extra time to file a lawsuit allows minors to better grasp the severity of their injuries and the compensation they need, 
  3. Communication skills are still developing in minors and as such they may not be able to provide accurate details or effectively describe an accident soon after it occurs.
  4. Parents may be focused on a child’s medical treatment, rather than legal action. The extra time allows families to deal with a minor’s health needs before legally pursuing compensation through the courts.

Exception for Delayed Discovery of Personal Injury

The delayed discovery rule is another important exception to the 2 year statute of limitations in California. Essentially, this exception postpones the start of the limitations period until the plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, the negligent cause of his or her injuries. 

The delayed discovery rule usually comes into play when the injured victim did not have all the facts that a reasonable person would need to understand that they have suffered an injury. Or in cases where the injured person would not have discovered the injury even if they were to exercise reasonable diligence.

Here is a simplified example. Assume a driver is involved in a minor car accident, with very little damage to their car. There is no apparent reason to suspect any major injuries because there is no pain and the accident seemed insignificant. So even with reasonable diligence, the full extent of the injuries is not clear. About 6 months later, the driver starts having severe back pain. Upon getting an MRI, the person discovers a herniated disc injury. At this point, they have discovered a new injury caused by the accident. Normally, the two-year statute of limitations would start running on the date of the accident. However, the delayed discovery rule in this example postpones the start of the clock, since the injuries weren’t discovered until 6 months later. The two-year limitation period would begin when the disc herniation and its connection to the accident were or reasonably should have been discovered.

Without the delayed discovery rule, personal injury victims could lose the ability to file suit before realizing the full impact of an injury, which often may develop over time. By tying the start of the limitations period to discovery of the injury, this rule provides fair access to the legal system for personal injury plaintiffs. The discovery rule protects those who diligently pursue their rights once reasonably aware of the negligent harm done to them.

Statute of Limitations in Medical Malpractice Claims

The deadline to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in California under Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5 is 1 year from the date you knew or should have known of the injury, or 3 years from the date of the injury – whichever is the earlier date. 

The one-year deadline applies if the patient was aware or reasonably should have been aware of the injury within that first year. For example, if a doctor misdiagnoses a condition on January 1, 2022, but the patient does not suffer any harm until June 1, 2022, they need to file suit within one year from June 1, 2022.

In cases where the injury was not and could not reasonably be discovered right away, the patient has a maximum of three years from the date the malpractice actually occurred to file a claim. So even if the patient did not discover the injury until many years later, they cannot file a lawsuit more than three years after the date of the medical error itself.

For instance, if a doctor leaves a surgical sponge inside a patient during surgery on March 1, 2022 but the patient does not discover this until February 1, 2024, the claim still must be filed by March 1, 2025 at the latest – which is within three years of the original incident.

The three-year outer limit exists to place an absolute cap on medical malpractice claims, regardless of when the harm was uncovered. But as long as the discovery date is within one year, that one-year deadline from discovery still applies in California. This law aims to balance the needs of injured patients while limiting frivolous lawsuits against healthcare providers.

Statute of Limitation for Suing the Government

Suing a government entity is more complex because the deadline is shorter and there is an additional administrative step which must be followed. Under Government Code section 911.2, to file a personal injury claim against a government agency for negligence, you must first submit an administrative claim within 6 months of the injury. The government agency or department then has 45 days to respond. If they deny your claim, you have 6 months from the denial date to file a lawsuit. If there is no response, you have 2 years from the injury date to sue. 

For example, let’s say you slip and fall on a sidewalk in the City of Los Angeles. To sue the City, you must first file an administrative claim within six months of the incident. After filing the claim, the City of Los Angeles has 45 days to respond to the claim. Sometimes they respond to a claim and are eager to settle. But the majority of times, they deny your claim, at which point you now have only six months from the date of denial to file a personal injury lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles. 

Now if the City of Los Angeles fails to provide a response to your claim within the 45 days, you’ll have two years from the date of injury to file suit – the standard personal injury statute of limitations.

Summary of Major Statute of Limitations in California

     Type of Case

     Time Limit to Sue

Personal injury 

2 years from date of injury

Medical malpractice

1 year from the date you knew or should have known, or 3 years from the date of the injury whichever is the earlier date

Claims against the government 

6 months to file an administrative claim; if it’s rejected, 6 months to file a lawsuit, if no response, 2 years to file a lawsuit from date of injury 

Damage to property

3 years from damage to property 

Libel or slander

1 year from injury, i.e., the false assertion

Breach of oral contract

2 years from breach

Breach of written contract

4 years from breach  

Construction defect of apparent problems

4 years from completion 

Construction defect of non-apparent (hidden) problems

10 years from completion

Property left at hotel, hospital, rest home, sanitarium, boarding house, lodging house, or apartment, etc.

90 days after leaving 

Against a bank for a forged check

1 year from the date check was paid 

After a Car Accident in Los Angeles, Call a Personal Injury Lawyer

Determining the applicable statute of limitations for a personal injury claim in California can be complex. Time limits vary significantly based on the type of injury, defendants involved, and state law. Factors like the plaintiff’s age, discovery of the harm, continuing violations, and government notice requirements can cloud the deadlines further. Attempting to decipher these convoluted statutes on your own while recovering from an injury is risky. An experienced personal injury lawyer intimately understands how to identify the correct limitations period for your unique situation. They will know exactly when your claim must be filed to preserve your rights. If you or a loved one has suffered any kind of disabling injury, contact a qualified personal injury attorney immediately for a free consultation. An expert lawyer can clarify the statute of limitations and take prompt action to protect your right to seek maximum compensation. Don’t leave your claim timeline to chance – call an accomplished personal injury attorney today.

Scroll to Top