Statute of Limitations: What They Mean for You

statute of limitations

If you’re into crime TV shows, movies, or podcasts, you’ve undoubtedly heard the term “statute of limitations.” Similarly, if you’ve ever explored filing a lawsuit for any reason, you likely have encountered questions about them. 

Do you really know what a statute of limitations is? And how it might apply to your situation? We’re here to help. Read on to learn more about statutes of limitations, especially for personal injury cases in California. 

What Is a Statute of Limitations? 

The legal definition of statute of limitations is “Any law that bars claims after a certain period of time passes after an injury.  The period of time varies depending on the jurisdiction and the type of claim.”

Once the statute of limitations runs out, the claim is no longer valid and you are no longer eligible to file a lawsuit (if it’s a civil case, such as a personal injury) and the prosecutor can no longer bring charges (if it’s a criminal offense). 

The more serious the offense, the longer the statute of limitations. For example, in California, there is no statute of limitations for murder. A prosecutor can charge an offender no matter how long ago it occurred. 

What Are the Statutes of Limitations in California?

Every state has different rules for the statute of limitations. In California, the statute of limitations for common civil cases is usually four years or less, with some exceptions. 

Personal injury suits must be filed within two years of the injury. However, if the injury isn’t discovered right away, the statute of limitations is one year from the date that the injury was discovered. This is especially relevant in car accidents, where injuries may not emerge right away, or a medical malpractice case. 

The statute of limitations for a breach of a contract depends on what type of contract it is. For a written contract, suits must be filed within four years from the date the contract was broken. For an oral contract, however, the suit must be filed within two years from the date the contract was broken. 

Property damage lawsuits must be filed within three years from the date of the damage. 

Known problems (also called patent defects) lawsuits, which are typically against contractors, builders, architects, etc., must be filed within four years of the completion of the construction. 

On the other hand, unknown problem (called latent defects) lawsuits must be filed within 10 years from the date that the construction was finished.

Medical malpractice suits must be filed within one year from the date the plaintiff knows or should have known about the injury, or three y ears from the date of the injury. The earlier date is the one that is used for purposes of determining the statute of limitations. 

Government Claims 

If you are going to sue the government, there is a different set of requirements. First, you must file something called an “administrative claim” with a particular government agency before you can file in court. You must use the government’s specific form to file the claim. 

If the incident is a personal injury or property damage claim, you must file the administrative claim within six months of the date of the injury or damage. If it’s a breach of contract case, you must file the administrative claim within one year of the breach.

Once you file your administrative claim, the government must respond within 45 days. If they deny your claim, you have six months to file a lawsuit. If they don’t respond, you have two years from the date the incident occurred to file.

There are some exceptions to these statutes, however, that may extend the statute of limitations. These are discussed in more detail below. 


To make things more complex, there are situations when the statute of limitations is suspended for a period of time. This is called “tolling”. 

Tolling can occur if the defendant is a minor. In this case, the statute of limitations is paused until they turn 18, and then it begins again. Tolling also can occur if the defendant is in prison or is out of the state. Once the defendant is released from prison or returns to California, the clocks begins again. 

How to Determine the Statute of Limitations 

If you or a loved one has experienced a personal injury, medical malpractice, car or pedestrian accident, or any other type of injury, you will need to determine if you actually have a case and if you are within the statute of limitations. 

Your best bet is to follow this list of what to do after a personal injury. This will ensure that things happen in a timely manner and that you don’t miss out on your opportunity to hold the responsible parties accountable.

Ultimately, you will want to consult with an attorney to determine if you are within the proper statute of limitations for your case. It can be complex to figure out what the time limit is, so don’t try to do it on your own if you have no legal expertise.

Contact an Attorney Today

Determining the statute of limitations can be tricky, especially if there are unique circumstances to your case. To make sure you are not wasting resources if the statute of limitations has passed or to make sure you don’t miss your window to file a claim, contact an experienced attorney. 

At Sweet Law, our personal injury lawyers know the ins and outs of the statute of limitations in the state of California. Contact us today for a free case consultation. 

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