A statute of limitations is a legal term of art. In a nutshell, it refers to the time period following an accident after which legal proceedings must be brought or a lawsuit must be filed. The statute of limitations in CA personal injury cases is ordinarily two years from the date the accident took place and the injuries were sustained. Generally speaking, this means that suit must be filed within two years of the accident, or the injured plaintiff is forever barred from seeking recovery for his or her injuries. The two-year statute of limitations in CA personal injury cases is normally a hard and fast deadline.
People often wonder why statutes of limitation and notice deadlines are so strict and unforgiving. The main reason for statutes of limitation and notice deadlines in personal injury cases is to ensure witness availability for trial and to prevent evidence in the case from growing stale. At least in theory, after two years (and, in states where the statute is longer, three years), essential accident witnesses move away or die, parties’ and witnesses’ memories about the accident fade, and evidence disappears. Enforcing a strict statute of limitations and/or notice deadline helps to prevent these occurrences.
What Does It Mean to “Toll” the Statute of Limitations?
In California, several exceptions to the hard and fast statute of limitations deadline exist. For example, if the injured person was a minor (i.e. under the age of 18), or was mentally incompetent at the time when the accident took place and the injuries were sustained, the statute of limitations in CA personal injury cases can be extended out for a period of time. A minor has until his or her eighteenth birthday, plus an additional statutorily prescribed period of two years, to file a lawsuit for injuries sustained in an accident. In cases where an unknown injury exists and is later discovered, that fact may also be used as a basis for postponing the two-year statute of limitations deadline, and suit can be filed beyond the normal deadline. In legal terms, these exceptions “toll” the statute of limitations.
Notice Requirements in Lawsuits Filed Against Government Agencies
In personal injury cases – especially when a statute of limitations deadline is looming in the near future – it is essential to sue every potential defendant in order to maximize the chances of recovery. In fact, if an attorney does not sue every potential defendant in a personal injury case, he or she could be subject to legal malpractice.
When an accident involves a government vehicle, or occurs in a public place (such as a slip and fall on a public sidewalk), it often means that a governmental entity or agency, such as the city, county, police department, or other local governmental entity, must be named as a defendant in any lawsuit that is filed. A public agency’s culpability in a personal injury case usually depends upon the level of control that government agency had over the vehicle involved in the accident or the public area (such as a roadway or public sidewalk) where the accident occurred. Under the law, public agencies are treated as “persons.” As such, they can file a lawsuit and lawsuits can be filed against them.
In personal injury cases where a public agency is involved, a notice period (or an additional “statute of limitations” period) is imposed. For example, in the State of California, an injured person has 180 days from the date of the accident to file notice of a claim directly with the agency. The purpose of this notification is to alert the agency to the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident, and to let the agency know that if a resolution is not reached, the injured person plans to file a lawsuit in the near future. The claim must then be formally denied by the public agency in order for the injured person to file a lawsuit with the court.
If a lawsuit is filed beforehand – without first satisfying the 180-day notice requirement – it is very likely that the governmental agency will file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The lawsuit filed by the injured person will then be subject to dismissal by a court.
Why Is a Lawyer Important in Personal Injury Cases?
After being injured in an accident and sustaining injuries, it is essential that you have legal representation from the beginning of your case and throughout the entire litigation process. Although “tolling” a statute of limitations is theoretically possible, it is only available in a limited number of circumstances.
They key to avoiding a statute of limitations problem in your case is to contact an experienced California personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after the accident. Your attorney will take the necessary steps to safeguard your rights, and, if necessary, file suit in order to protect the statute or notice period from expiring. The statute of limitations and notice periods are strict deadlines, and failing to follow the proper procedures can lead to a loss of money – and even the inability to file a claim against a particular defendant in the first place.
Contact Us to Learn More About Statutes of Limitation in CA Personal Injury Cases
Our lawyers are experienced in litigating personal injury cases on behalf of plaintiffs and are ready and willing to assist you today. If you have questions about the statutes of limitation in CA personal injury cases, please feel free to contact us at any time, via telephone or email, for an initial consultation.