Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Claims in California
If you were involved in a California car accident, you might be wondering how you will recover, both physically and financially. If someone else was responsible for the accident, you could have grounds to file a claim against them to pursue compensation for your losses. However, there are time limits to file a car accident claim in California. This deadline is called the statute of limitations.
Understanding the statute of limitations for your injury claim is very important. Miss the deadline and the court could dismiss the claim altogether. In other words, you will lose your rights to compensation forever.
Worried about the statute of limitations in your car accident claim? Reach out to the Law Offices of Pius Joseph. Our Pasadena car accident lawyer can review your claim and discuss how the statute of limitations applies in your case. Call or contact us today for a free consultation.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a law that restricts the amount of time people must bring legal claims in court. Every state sets distinct statutes of limitations laws, and they differ depending on the type of case you wish to file.
For example, the time limit for filing a car accident claim in California is (2) two years from the date of the injury for personal injury claims.
Statute of limitations laws are important because they ensure legal cases are resolved promptly, protect the legal rights of the accused, and prevent courts from becoming bogged down by excessive or stale claims.
A statute of limitations also matters in a case because:
- Evidence can deteriorate over time. Physical evidence, such as bodily fluids, footprints, and tire tracks, can degrade over time. This could mean injured victims cannot prove who was at fault, and accused parties lack the evidence they need for a fair defense.
- Witnesses may forget critical details. Eyewitness statements carry a lot of weight in personal injury claims because witnesses have nothing to gain from the outcome of a case. But if you wait too long to file, witnesses can forget crucial details about what they saw, potentially leading to unjust legal outcomes.
When Does the Statute of Limitations in California Begin?
In most cases, the statute of limitations “clock” for car accidents starts running on the date of the wreck.
From there, the time limit can vary based on the facts of the case.
- Bodily injury: Car accidents fall under the umbrella of personal injury law. When a crash results in an injury, victims have two years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury claim against the at-fault party(s).
- Wrongful death: If an accident results in someone else’s death, their surviving family members or estate representatives have two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death claim.
Exceptions to the Car Accident Statute of Limitations
While two years is the general time limit to file car accident claims in California, some exceptions can shorten or extend the amount of time you must take legal action.
Let us say your crash was caused by a failure to maintain state or city roads. You could have a valid legal claim against a local government. But the statute of limitations to file a claim for government negligence is cut drastically to just six months. You need to get started quickly to hold the relevant agency accountable.
By contrast, there are times when the statute of limitations for a car accident claim may be lengthened in California.
- Claims involving minors: If a minor under 18 is involved in a car accident, the statute of limitations begins running as soon as the child turns 18.
- Lack of mental capacity: The statute of limitations for people who are mentally incompetent is delayed until they regain capacity under the law.
Because the statute of limitations can vary significantly based on your circumstances, it is critical to talk to a car accident lawyer to learn your timetable for taking legal action.
What Is the Discovery Rule?
Some people do not develop symptoms of an injury immediately after a car accident. Delayed-onset injuries are not necessarily minor, either. Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and internal bleeding are two potentially fatal examples of injuries with symptoms that might not appear right away.
When this type of delay occurs, California’s discovery rule allows victims to bring in additional Defendants once the statute has been protected. The statute of limitations is not per se extended but you may add the defendants during litigation.
For example, the discovery rule could apply to a California car accident case if:
- A defective car part contributed to the accident, but the victim had no way of knowing about or discovering the faulty component in a timely manner.
- The victim displayed no obvious signs or symptoms of injury immediately after the crash, even with a thorough medical evaluation, but later developed an injury or condition related to the accident.
- The victim was unknowingly exposed to harmful chemicals due to the crash but did not exhibit symptoms of chemical exposure immediately.
When Should I Start Filing My Claim?
If you wait to file a legal claim after the applicable statute of limitations expires, the defendant in your lawsuit can ask the judge to dismiss your case. In nearly all cases, judges will grant these requests. That means you lose your right to compensation altogether. Therefore, it is so critical to act quickly if you believe you have grounds for a California car accident claim.
Even though two years may sound like plenty of time to file a claim, car accident claims need thorough investigations. The more complex the case, the more time your lawyer will need to build a solid and convincing case.
The statute of limitations is important to remember even if you plan to settle your car accident claim out of court. The ability to file a lawsuit is your most valuable piece of leverage in settlement talks. If insurance providers or defendants know the statute of limitations for your claim has expired, they will have no incentive to negotiate with you.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Car Accident Claim?
If you were involved in a minor car accident that did not cause any significant injuries or property damage, you might be able to resolve your car accident claim on your own. However, if any of the following apply to your case, it is wise to consult with a qualified car accident attorney:
- The accident resulted in serious injuries or death.
- Your injuries prevented you from returning to work.
- Fault is disputed or unclear.
- The accident occurred in a construction zone, school zone, work zone, or on government-owned property.
- The other motorist(s) was uninsured or underinsured.
- You have trouble locating, collecting, or preserving evidence for your claim.
- The insurance company attempts to minimize or deny your claim.
- You are asked to provide a statement by the other driver, their insurance provider, or their attorney.
- You feel uncertain about your legal rights, options, or ability to negotiate for the compensation you deserve.
If you feel uncertain about any aspect of your car accident case, it is better to be safe than sorry. Talk to a lawyer immediately. We suggest that if you have been injured you never deal with any insurance company directly. Insurance companies have only their own financial interests in sight.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer in Pasadena, California
At the Law Offices of Pius Joseph, our attorneys have more than 30 years of experience handling all types of California car accident claims. If you or someone you love has been hurt, we will develop an effective legal strategy to hold the negligent party(s) accountable and restore your sense of financial and emotional security.
Although many car accident claims are settled out of court, our firm prepares every case we take as if we are going to trial. Over the years, Attorney Pius Joseph has taken more than 1,000 cases to trial and won millions of dollars for deserving clients just like you.
To learn more about how we can make a difference in your California car accident claim, contact us today for a free consultation.