Answering your questions about California’s applicable statutes of limitations that attorneys always warn us about
Definition & purpose of statutes of limitations
Top 10 statutes of limitations (and time period) / other types of statutes of limitations
Understanding California’s statutes of limitations
Exceptions & unique cases in CA
“The applicable statutes of limitations are likely already running, and timing can be critically important to your case.” If you’ve been in a situation where an attorney is involved, you’ve likely heard this statement before (probably several times). Even we have that statement on our website — as does every law firm website.
Attorneys always use this phrase, but what exactly does it mean for non-attorneys? Let’s try to break this down:
applicable = relevant or appropriate
statute = a written law passed by a legislative body
limitation = a limiting rule or circumstance; a restriction
So, by definition, the applicable statute of limitations should equal the relevant or appropriate law based on a restriction of a situation. How close did we get?
What is the legal definition of a statute of limitation?
A statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. Both under federal law and in every state, there are time limits for the commencement of lawsuits and other civil actions called “statutes of limitations.” Most lawsuits must be filed within a certain amount of time.
The concept behind statutes of limitations is that after a specified period of time one can no longer commence the action since the matter is stale, the witnesses and evidence hard or impossible to locate, and if there was a real harm, the plaintiff would have brought the action more promptly.
At what point does the clock start ticking for the statutes of limitations? Typically on the date of the incident or discovery of a wrong.
Why is there a statute of limitations?
Statutes of limitations exist out of a sense of fundamental fairness. Memories fade, evidence is inadvertently destroyed, and witnesses move away. If there were no limits to bringing an action, it is quite possible that a claimant could win a lawsuit with truly little legitimate support. Similarly, a limitations period both:
encourages plaintiffs to diligently pursue their claims, and
protects people from having to defend “stale” claims.
TOP 10 STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS + TIME PERIOD DURING WHICH YOU MAY SUE (OR BE SUED)
1. Injury to a person (2 years from the date of injury)
The defendant hurts you with or without intending to hurt you. For example, personal injury accidents, wrongful death, assault, battery, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, wrongful act, or negligent act, etc.
2. Damage to property (3 years from the date the property was damaged)
The defendant damages or destroys your property either with or without intending to damage it. For example, taking your personal property (conversion), crashing your vehicle, going onto your property without permission (trespass), fraud, nuisance, etc. California Code of Civil Procedure section 338External link icon.
3. Libel or slander (1 year from the date of injury)
The defendant defames you in print, writing, or pictures (libel) or verbally (slander).
4. Oral contracts (2 years from the date the contract was broken)
Contracts that you and the defendant did not write down. (Most oral contracts will have some sort of writing, e.g., a receipt, a canceled check, etc. This writing may be proof that you had an oral contract.) Not to be confused with contracts in writing, another statute of limitation.
5. Known (apparent) problems (4 years from the date the construction was mostly finished)
Called “patent defects” in real property improvement design, survey, construction, etc., and resulting injury to property or person. These usually are lawsuits against architects, contractors, or builders.
6. Unknown (not apparent) problems (10 years from the date construction was mostly finished)
Called “latent” defects) in real property improvement design, survey, construction which cause damage to real estate or personal property. These usually are lawsuits against architects, contractors or builders.
7. Personal property (90 days after departing from premises)
Left at a hotel, hospital, rest home, sanitarium, boarding house, lodging house, or apartment, etc.
8. Against a health-care provider (1 year (In some cases, 3 years. Read the law))
From the date plaintiff knows or should have known about the injury.
Note: If you are going to sue a health-care provider for medical malpractice, you MUST give them 90 days’ notice before filing.
9. Against a bank (1 year from the date the bank paid out the funds)
If a bank paid on a check that was signed without authorization or where the signature was forged.
10. Against government agencies or offices* (6 months from the time of the injury to file an administrative claim OR 1 year from the breach of contract or real property damage to file an administrative claim)
Personal property and personal injury/death cases:
You must file your administrative claim within 6 months of the date of the injury.
Breach of contract and real property damage cases:
You must file your administrative claim within 1 year of the date the contract was broken or the real property damaged.
After you file your claim, the government has 45 days to respond. If the government agency
Denies your claim during the 45 days, you have 6 months to file in court from date the denial was mailed or personally delivered to you.
Does not respond to your claim during the 45 days, you have 2 years from the date the incident occurred to file in court.
*These cases require that you file a special claim (called an “administrative claim”) with the government office or agency before you file in court. You have to use the government’s form to file the claim.
OTHER TYPES OF STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS
– False imprisonment: 1 yr.
– Fraud: 3 yrs.
– Legal malpractice: 1 yr. from discovery, max. of 4 yrs. from the wrong
– Veterinarian malpractice: 1 yr. for injury or death of animal
– Trespass: 3 yrs.
– Collection of Rents (not unlawful detainer): 4 yrs.
– Collection of Debt on Account: 4 yrs. (book and stated accounts)
– Enforcement of Judgments: 10 yrs. (Possibly renewable if certain steps are taken.)
UNDERSTANDING CALIFORNIA’S STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS
The period of time during which you can file a lawsuit varies depending on the type of legal claim. In California, statutes of limitations range from one year to 10 years depending on the type of case or procedure. Let’s break down some important facts regarding California’s statutes of limitations.
Statutes can be extended (“tolled”) for various reasons. For example:
The statue for a minor to bring an action can be tolled until he or she reaches the age of majority when they are able to commence the action legally or
When the defendant actively sought to delay the action or hide the damage to the point where the court feels that injustice would ensue if the statute of limitations was applied.
In addition to the two reasons listed above, other common situations when there is a tolling of the statute of limitations in a California personal injury case. These are when the plaintiff is:
located out of the state,
legally insane, or
Note too, that in reaction to COVID-19, California’s Judicial Council adopted and recently amended emergency rule 9. The rule essentially tolls the statutes of limitations on all civil causes of action (which include personal injury actions). We’ll address this in detail in the following section.
EXCEPTIONS & UNIQUE CASES IN CALIFORNIA
Crimes with no time limits
In California and most other states, violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes have no statute of limitations — meaning the government can file criminal charges for the alleged offense at any time. Crimes punishable by death or a life sentence include:
First-degree murder and treason
Embezzlement of public money
Felony rape offenses involving force or violence
Suspended statutes of limitations
In certain instances, statutes of limitations are “tolled” (suspended), allowing the government more time to bring a case. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, followed by significant court closures, the California Judicial Council responded with Emergency Rule 9.
The rule “tolled” (or “paused”) the statutes of limitation for civil actions from March 6, 2020 until 90 days after Governor Newsom lifted the state of emergency. “Tolling” stops or suspends the running of statutes of limitations; when the tolling period ends, the clock starts again.
The Judicial Council had now amended Rule 9 to provide an end date for the tolling period. Specifically, Amended Emergency Rule 9 created two tolling periods depending on the length of the pertinent statute of limitation. Under Rule 9(a), statutes of limitations that exceeded 180 days were tolled from April 6, 2020 until October 1, 2020. Under Rule 9(b), statutes of limitations of up to 180 days were tolled from April 6, 2020, until August 3, 2020.
Time limits for specific crimes
Up to the victim’s 40th birthday
Certain felony sex offenses against a child
Other felony sex offenses that require sex offender registration
Certain crimes committed against elderly or dependent adults
Infliction of corporal (bodily) injury against a current or former intimate partner
4 years after discovery of offense or 4 years after completion of offense, whichever is later
Misconduct by a public official
Crimes of theft or embezzlement against elderly or dependent adults
WHEN TO TALK TO A LAWYER
As you can tell from the exhaustive topics addressed in this article, figuring out when the statute of limitations runs out on a claim is not easy. If you have any doubts about how to calculate the time you have, talk to a lawyer.
Not only will we help you learn more about your legal rights and how our litigation team can help you receive the compensation you deserve, but we’ll also break down the terms of your situation, including the applicable statutes of limitations.
https://rayneserickson.com/ | (909) 793-6800