Time Limits on Filing Lawsuits: How Soon Do You Need to File After an Accident or Injury?

filing lawsuits

Every year, thousands of people are hurt in accidents that are not their fault. From car accidents to medical malpractice to defective products, personal injuries happen every day. Depending on the severity of your injuries, you may have extensive medical expenses, lost wages, or even permanent disability. 

If the insurance company of the responsible party does not offer you a fair settlement, you may want to consider filing a lawsuit. If you do this, however, you have to make sure you do so in a timely manner, as most states limit how much time can go by after an injury. 

Read on to learn more about the time limit on filing lawsuits, what information you need, and how to start the lawsuit process. 

How Soon Do You Need to File a Lawsuit? 

The answer to this question varies depending on the type of injury you sustained and the type of lawsuit you want to file. This is called the statute of limitations, which is defined as a law that “bars claims after a certain period of time passes after an injury.”

In California, the statute of limitations for most types of personal injury lawsuits is two years from the date of the injury. If the injury is not discovered immediately or emerges later, the statute of limitations is one year from the date of discovering the injury. This means that if you wait too long after your injury, you may be ineligible to file a lawsuit. 

Once you have reached two years and one day, for example, the statute of limitations has run out and you do not have legal standing to file a suit. 


There is something called tolling, which pauses the statute of limitations. Tolling suspends the statute of limitations for a certain period of time.

This could happen if the defendant is a minor, lives out of state, is incarcerated, or is mentally insane. Once the reason for the tolling ends, such as the defendant turning 18, being released from prison, or returning to the state, the statute of limitations begins again. 

Delayed Discovery

Delayed discovery occurs when there are certain conditions present that necessitate a longer statute of limitations. The situations where this applies in California include: 

  • When the plaintiff didn’t have facts that would cause them to suspect that they had been injured due to someone’s wrongful conduct
  • When a reasonable investigation would not have discovered that a product contributed to the harm experienced by the plaintiff

In this situation, the statute of limitations is one year from the date that the injury was discovered. 


Minors cannot make legal decisions, to they are unable to file lawsuits until they turn 18. In this situation, the statute of limitations is tolled until the minor is of age. 

However, in cases of medical malpractice, the rule is different. In a case of medical malpractice, claims by a minor must be filed within three years of the act or if the minor is younger than age 6 at the time of the injury, the claim must be filed prior to their 8th birthday. If the injury to a minor happens during their birth, the claim must be filed within 6 years. 

Medical Malpractice

The statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is typically shorter than for other personal injury lawsuits. Most medical malpractice claims must be filed within one year of the date on which the injury was discovered (or should have been discovered). The exceptions are for injuries to minors and are listed in the section above.

Even if exceptions do exist, most malpractice claims must not be filed more than three years after the injury occurred. Medical malpractice cases are some of the most complex personal injury cases. The expertise of an experienced attorney is almost always necessary to navigate these cases.  

Crime Victims 

In addition to any criminal charges they are facing, offenders also may be sued by crime victims. If you have been the victim of a felony, you may sue the offender for damages you experience as a result of the crime. 

The statute of limitations is typically longer; for serious crimes, such as murder, attempted murder, rape, or kidnapping, you have 10 years from the date the offender is discharged from parole to file a suit. If it’s a less serious felony, you have one year after the conviction of the offender to file a suit.  

Government Claims

If you want to sue the government for a personal injury, your statute of limitations is even short. For a personal injury or personal property damage, you must file within six months of the date of the injury. 

Once you file, the government has 45 days to respond; if they deny your claim, you have 6 months to file a lawsuit. If you don’t get a rejection, you have two years to file a lawsuit. Like medical malpractice claims, the statute of limitations for government claims is difficult to determine.

Consult with an Attorney Before Filing Lawsuits

Although an attorney is not required for filing lawsuits, it is not advised to try to handle the legal process on your own. Attorneys understand the ins and outs of the civil law system, can identify if you have a case, are within the statute of limitations, and what types of damages you should seek.

You may end up wasting a lot of time and effort trying to file a lawsuit when you aren’t actually eligible to do so based on the statute of limitations. 

Contact the attorneys at Sweet Law today to discuss your case. We are standing by to provide a free case evaluation and have attorneys who specialize in personal injury cases, including medical malpractice, defective products, car accidents, and more. 

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