Statute of Limitations for Suing After a Car Accident in California


One critical aspect of California law that can significantly impact your ability to seek compensation is the statute of limitations.

This legal concept dictates the timeframe within which you must file a lawsuit following a car accident.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum period you can wait before filing a lawsuit, depending on the type of case. This legal deadline serves to ensure that litigation is initiated while evidence is still fresh and witnesses’ memories are vivid, thus promoting fair and efficient legal proceedings.

In the context of car accidents, adhering to the statute of limitations is essential to protecting your right to sue and secure compensation for damages.

Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents in California

In California, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims resulting from a car accident is generally two years from the date of the accident. This means that if you suffer injuries in a car crash, you have up to two years to file a lawsuit against the responsible party.

For property damage claims, the time frame is slightly longer, with a three-year statute of limitations. These deadlines apply whether you are pursuing compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, or repair costs.

Exceptions to the General Rule

There are several exceptions to the general statute of limitations that may extend or shorten the filing period:

  • Minor Victims: If the victim is a minor (under 18 years old), the statute of limitations does not begin until they turn 18. Therefore, they have until their 20th birthday to file a personal injury lawsuit.
  • Government Entities: When suing a government entity, such as a city or state agency, you must file a government claim within six months of the accident. If the claim is denied, you then have six months from the denial date to file a lawsuit.
  • Discovery Rule: In some cases, injuries or damages might not be immediately apparent. Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations starts when the injury or damage is discovered or reasonably should have been discovered.

Consequences of Missing the Deadline

Failing to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations typically results in the loss of your right to sue. The court is likely to dismiss your case, leaving you without legal recourse to recover damages.

While there are rare circumstances where courts may permit late filings, these are exceptional and should not be relied upon.

Steps to Take After a Car Accident

To avoid missing deadlines, take the following steps immediately after a car accident:

  1. Seek Medical Attention: Prioritize your health by getting medical care, even if injuries seem minor at first.
  2. Document the Scene: Collect evidence, take photographs, and gather contact information from witnesses.
  3. Report the Accident: Notify law enforcement and file an accident report.
  4. Consult an Attorney: Get in touch with a car accident lawyer in Burbank as soon as possible to ensure all legal timelines are met.

Importance of Timely Action

Acting quickly after a car accident is vital for preserving evidence and witness testimony, both of which can degrade over time. Additionally, timely legal action can safeguard your financial interests by enabling you to claim compensation for medical bills, vehicle repairs, and other accident-related expenses without unnecessary delays.

For example, if you miss the two-year deadline to file a personal injury lawsuit, insurance companies may be less likely to offer a fair settlement (if at all), knowing they are not at risk of facing legal action.

Final Thoughts

While the statute of limitations may seem like a technical legal concept, you would want to make sure that you adhere to this deadline if you wish to seek compensation for damages suffered in a car accident. Failure to do so could result in the loss of your right to sue and recover compensation.

As with most legal matters, early action and seeking the help of a qualified attorney can significantly improve your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome. Any delay in addressing the situation may lead to unnecessary complications and potentially prevent you from receiving the justice and compensation you deserve.