What is a “statute of limitations” and how does it affect your case?
If you’re thinking about starting a lawsuit, or someone has started a lawsuit against you, you need to be aware of the statute of limitations that applies to the claim. For many types of claims, there will be a corresponding time limit for filing that claim in the California Civil Code. If the time period has expired, you won’t be able to file the claim. The purpose is to encourage the timely resolution of disputes. (Certain criminal offenses, like murder and embezzlement of public funds, have no statute of limitations. They can be prosecuted at any time.)
Examples of statutes of limitations
The California Code of Civil Procedure (Sections 335-394.4) provide the statutes of limitations for many civil causes of action. Here are some examples:
- Personal injury: Generally 2 years from the date of the injury
- Trespass and property damage: 3 years
- Breach of contract: 4 years from the date of breach for a written contract, or 2 years for an oral contract
- Defamation (libel or slander): 1 year
- Fraud: 3 years from the date of discovery of the fraud
Looking at the statute is a good place to start to see if you can still file a claim (or if a claim can be filed against you).
Can the time limit ever be extended?
Yes. These are generally strict time limits, meaning that once they expire a claim cannot be filed. However, in certain situations the limitation period can be “tolled” (suspended), allowing more time to file the claim. One example is if the person against whom the claim would be made is out of state at the time, the limitation period may be extended by the amount of time the person is gone.
There may also be exceptions that are relevant to the specifics of your case. For instance, in many cases, the harm you suffered is not immediately apparent. You may not discover it until later on. If so, you may be able to apply the “(delayed) discovery rule,” which allows you to postpone the start of the statutory time period until you discover (or should discover) the injury.
Additionally, be aware that the rules for suing the city or some other government entity can be even more complex, and often result in a shorter period of time in which to file a claim.
How does the statute of limitations relate to my case?
If you are the plaintiff looking to bring a claim, you must be aware of the statute of limitations so that you don’t wait too long. If you do, you could be barred from recovery, regardless of how good a case you have.
If you are the defendant in a case, the statute of limitations is just as relevant. If the plaintiff waited too long, you might be able to use this as a defense and have the case dismissed.
Figuring out the statute of limitations in your case
Calculating the statute of limitations period in your case can be complicated and involve multiple factors. It is often not as simple as merely looking at the statute. There may be exceptions, or you may be able to delay the clock running. It may involve some legal research into the specifics of your case to determine the time limit.
For this reason, it is important that you do not delay if you have a claim. Bringing your claim sooner rather than later is better for your case anyway (over time, evidence gets lost, witnesses forget, etc.)
If a claim has been filed against you, keep in mind that the statute of limitations may work in your favor, depending on the circumstances. An attorney experienced in civil litigation can help you determine how the statute of limitations will affect your case.
Helix Law Firm can help with civil litigation
If you want to file a claim, or a claim has been filed against you, we can help. We can look at the facts of your case and help determine how much time you have to file, or whether the statute of limitations would bar the claim, and whether you have other options.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Helix can help, please call us at (619) 567-4447 to schedule a free consultation.