What are California’s Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Cases?

After experiencing an injury or the unexpected loss of a loved one, the last thing you want to think about is deadlines. But under California law, you only have a certain amount of time to file a legal claim on behalf of yourself or a loved one who’s passed away. This is called a statute of limitations – and you must act quickly to protect your rights and secure justice.

A statute of limitations is a legal deadline for filing a claim or lawsuit. If you’re suffering from an injury or reeling from the loss of someone close to you, the thought of navigating the legal landscape can feel overwhelmingly complex, especially when there’s a clock ticking. An experienced California personal injury or wrongful death lawyer can help you take the necessary steps in time to explore your legal options and initiate a lawsuit.

California’s Time Limits for Personal Injury Cases

In California, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is generally 2 years from the date of the injury. If you’ve suffered an injury because of someone else’s negligence or intentional act, you must file a lawsuit within 2 years from the time your injury happened.

Certain factors can affect this timeline – for example, if the death was caused by a criminal act or involved a government entity. In the case of criminal acts, the timeline to sue may be extended to coincide with the conclusion of criminal proceedings. The statute of limitations for cases involving government entities tends to be even shorter – generally, you must file your claim within 6 months of the incident.

Meeting this deadline is crucial. Failing to file within this period often means you lose the right to file your claim at all, meaning you give up your right to recover compensation.

California’s Deadlines for Wrongful Death Claims

Similar to personal injury claims, the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases in California is generally 2 years, with some exceptions. However, the deadline starts from the time of death, which may be days, weeks, months, or years after the date of the original injury.

Can California’s Statute of Limitations Deadline Be Extended?

Under specific circumstances, California’s statute of limitations may be extended, giving you more time to file a lawsuit. These special circumstances include:

  • Injury Discovery – If the injury was not immediately obvious, the statute of limitations period begins when the injury is discovered or should have been discovered.
  • Minors – If the person injured is a minor, or if they’re a minor when their family member passes away from a wrongful death, the statute of limitations may be delayed until they reach 18 years of age so that they’re capable of protecting their interests.
  • Defendant’s Absence – If the person responsible for the injury or wrongful death travels or lives outside of California, their time away may not count towards the statute of limitations. Instead, the deadline may be delayed by the time they spent away.
  • Mental Incapacity – If the person injured is mentally incapacitated or unable to file a lawsuit, the statute of limitations period may be extended until their incapacity ends.
  • Military Service – The statute of limitations may be “tolled” for service members on active duty, adjusting for the time they were deployed.

The law allows statute of limitation extensions when doing so would ensure fairness and give victims enough time to file their legal claims under the circumstances.

It’s essential to talk to a knowledgeable attorney to understand how these exceptions may apply to your case, as navigating these nuances can significantly impact the outcome of your lawsuit.

What Happens if You Miss the Statute of Limitations?

Missing the statute of limitations in a personal injury or wrongful death case in California can have severe and permanent consequences for your legal rights. The most direct impact is that you may be completely barred from filing a lawsuit based on that specific claim.

No matter how strong your case is or how clearly negligent the other party may be, California courts will refuse to hear your case if the statute of limitations has passed. This rule is strictly enforced to promote fairness and also diligence in the legal process. One purpose of the law is to ensure that cases are brought up without unnecessary delay.

In addition to losing the right to seek compensation through the courts, missing the statute of limitations can also affect your leverage in negotiation settlements.

In personal injury and wrongful death cases, the possibility of a lawsuit or a court case often encourages the responsible parties to settle out of court. If the statute of limitations has expired, the opposing party knows that you cannot press the case in court. This significantly weakens your negotiating position and might result in you receiving no compensation or a much lower settlement than you might have achieved before the deadline passed.

Immediate Steps to Take After an Injury or Loss

Certain immediate steps are crucial following an injury or the loss of a loved one.

First, you should seek medical attention for your injuries, even if you think you feel fine. Not only is seeing a doctor vital for your health and long-term well-being – especially in cases with delayed injury symptoms – but medical records can serve as critical evidence if you decide to pursue a legal claim or lawsuit. These documents can prove the extent of your injuries and the potential link between the incident and your injuries.

As soon as possible after an injury or the death of a loved one, you should consider talking to an experienced California personal injury or wrongful death lawyer. An attorney can offer you valuable advice on how to proceed and how to protect your best interests. In addition, your lawyer can deal with insurance companies for you, gather evidence from the proper channels, and negotiate on your behalf to get the maximum compensation you deserve.

Remember, you aren’t alone on this journey – and the right support can make all the difference in your future. At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, professional and empathetic support is just a consultation away. Contact us now to get started on your case.