In all states, there are time limits to file lawsuits and civil actions known as statutes of limitations. The civil statute of limitations in California is similar to other states. Depending upon the type of case, the statute of limitations can be from one to 10 years.
Statutes of limitations are designed to create practicality and fairness for the filing of various types of lawsuits. The argument for statutes of limitations is that it is potentially unfair to file a lawsuit against someone for an event that occurred more than a decade ago. In the time that has passed, evidence may have disappeared and witnesses may be deceased that could clear the name of the accused. Statute of limitations laws attempt to create a specific end to each type of legal conflict.
Statutes of limitations also ensure that the accused is made aware that they stand accused of committing a wrong to another party. Btu the wronged party also has time to decide whether they want to file a lawsuit to recover damages or restitution. If enough time goes by, the ability to file a suit is gone.
Statutes of Limitations by Crime in California
Below are the current statute of limitations by crime in California:
- Personal Injury: Two years; one year for false imprisonment. For injury, it is two years from the date of injury, or one year from the date of discovery.
- Libel or slander: One year
- Fraud: Three years
- Personal property injury: Three years
- Malpractice: One year for legal; one year from discovery for medical; one year for injury or death of animal by a veterinarian
- Trespass: Three years
- Collection of rents: Four years
- Rape and sexual assault: No limit
- Murder: No limit
- Contracts: Four years for written from the date it was broken; two years for oral
- Collection of debt: Four years
- Judgements: 10 years
- Claims against government agencies: Six months
However, there are some serious crimes that have no statute of limitations in California or most states. These crimes are ones that can be punishable by death or life in prison, including murder and also the embezzlement of public money. These crimes can be prosecuted at any time in the future.
It is important to remember that the statute of limitations to file a personal injury suit is not just important if you decide to take the case to court. The filing deadline also is in effect if you are in settlement negotiations with the insurance company to compensate you for your injuries and other damages. If the two year deadline goes by, you will no longer have any leverage with the insurance company.
Exceptions to Statute of Limitations
In a personal injury case, there are some extenuating circumstances recognized under California law that can modify the typical two year statute of limitations:
- The injured party did not discover that he or she had suffered harm until more than two years after the incident took place. This is called the ‘delayed discovery’ rule.
- The injured party was under 18 at the time or did not have the legal capacity to make decisions, such as a person with a mental illness.
- The person who allegedly caused the injury left the state after the accident.
Major Change on Statute of Limitations for Rape in California
In 2016, the state eliminated the statute of limitations for rape and other sexual assault crimes, which was a major change to its criminal code. The measure eliminated the 10 year statute of limitations on many sex-related crimes. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation in late 2016. Other crimes that will have no statute of limitations in California are child molestation and forcible sodomy.
SB 813, similar to bills proposed in other state, came into existence after 50 women accused Bill Cosby of raping and sexually assault them over 40 years. Cosby has denied criminal wrongdoing, arguing the relationships were consensual.
But because most of the allegations became public decades after the fact, existing California laws prevented many charges against him.
Other states have followed suit recently, with Colorado doubling from 10 to 20 years the time sexual assault victims can file charges. Nevada extended its statute of limitations for sexual assault and rape from four to 20 years.
The new law only will affect sex crimes that occur from 2017 onward, and for offenses where the statute of limitations did not expire by Jan. 1, 2017.
Making a Government Claim in California
If you sue a government agency in California, you will first need to file a special claim known as an administrative claim with the agency or government office before you make your court filing. You are required to use the form from the government to do the claim.
For personal injury or property, you need to file the claim within six months of the date of injury or occurrence; for breach of contract and real property damage, you must file within one year of the date of occurrence or the contract was broken.
After the claim is filed, the California government has 45 days to reply. If the government agency denies the claim during that time, you have six months to file a lawsuit in state court from the date of the denial letter. If you do not receive a rejection letter, you have two years to file suit from the day the event occurred. Keep in mind that the statute of limitations for a government claim can be complex and you should not wait until the last minute to file.
Tolling of California Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations in this state may be suspended or tolled in some cases and then start again. For instance, tolling of the statute can happen if the defendant is a minor or out of state. When the reason for the suspension ends, the statute of limitations starts to run again.
- California Civil Statute of LImitations Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://statelaws.findlaw.com/california-law/california-civil-statute-of-limitations-laws.html
- California Statute of Limitations. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/09/california-statute-of-limitations/502307/