Two years is the statute of limitations (deadline) to bring a personal injury lawsuit in California for compensatory damages, punitive damages or other relief.1 You may still file a personal injury lawsuit after the two-year time limit passes, but courts dismiss “stale” lawsuits unless you can show that a legal exception caused the statute of limitations in your case to “toll” (pause).
Under California’s “discovery rule,” this two-year time window begins running when you reasonably should have realized you were injured. Usually this is the date of your accident, but it can be later if your injuries take time to manifest.2
The statute of limitations to sue for certain, specific injuries can be longer or shorter than two years:
|Injury type||California statute of limitations|
|Personal injury||2 years|
|Property damage / trespass||3 years|
|Wrongful death||2 years|
|Child sex abuse/assault||When you are 40 years old, or 5 years after you discover the abuse (whichever is later)|
|Wrongful birth||6 years|
|False imprisonment||2 years|
|Medical malpractice||1 year*|
|Legal malpractice||1 year*|
|Veterinary malpractice||1 year|
|Asbestos exposure||1 year*|
|Breach of oral contract||2 years|
|Breach of written contract||4 years|
|Felony victim||1 year**|
|Victim of serious felony||10 years**|
|Mesothelioma and other asbestos claims||1 year from the date on which you first suffered a disability, or 1 year after the date on which you either knew, or through the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, that such disability was caused or contributed to by such exposure 3|
|Dalkon Shield claims||15 years of the date on which your injury occurred, except that the statute is tolled starting August 21, 1985 4|
|Recovery or conversion of personal property left at a hotel, hospital, or similar temporary lodging||90 days from when you leave the facility 5|
|*from discovery |
**from conviction 6
When do statutes of limitations toll?
In California, the statute of limitations temporarily pauses while the defendant (at-fault party) in your case is either:
- under 18 years old,
- outside the state of California,
- in state prison (not county jail), or
- legally insane.
If and when the condition leading to tolling has ended, the statute of limitations can resume.7
In cases where you were the victim of a serious felony such as rape, kidnapping, or attempted murder, you have 10 years from the defendant’s discharge from parole to sue. For less serious felonies, you have one year after the defendant’s judgment to sue.8
What about medical malpractice cases?
Malpractice claims have some of the shortest statutes of limitations in California.
In general, medical malpractice claims must be filed by the earlier of:
- 1 year after the injury was discovered (or should have been discovered);9 or
- 3 years after the injury occurred.10
For veterinary malpractice, the one-year statute of limitations starts running on the actual date of the injury.11
When can I sue if I was injured as a minor?
If you were a minor when your accident occurred in California, the statute of limitations usually does not begin running until you turn 18 – which is the age at which you gain the legal capacity to make decisions.12 Though if you were a child sex abuse victim, you may sue your abusers anytime
- before your 40th birthday or
- within 5 years of discovering the abuse (whichever is later).13
In medical malpractice claims however, minor victims must file lawsuits within the later of:
- 3 years from the date of the alleged wrongful act, or
- If the minor is under 6 years old at the time of injury, prior to their 8th birthday.14
An action by or on behalf of a minor for personal injuries sustained before or in the course of their birth must be commenced within six years after the date of birth.15
What if the government caused my injuries?
To sue a California government agency for its negligence, you would have to bring a special “administrative claim” within six months of the injury. The government then has 45 days to respond:
- If the government responds but denies your claim, you can bring a personal injury lawsuit against the government within six months of their denial.
- If the government fails to respond at all, you have two years from your injury (the standard statute of limitations) to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the government.
A common claim against a government agency is that they were negligent in maintaining safe roads and clear signage, which contributed to your car accident.16
What if the statute of limitations has passed?
Even if the deadline to sue for personal injury has passed, you still may have time to sue on other grounds with a longer statute of limitations.
Example: Kevin injures himself while painting Jack’s California house because the deck was rotting. If Kevin misses the two-year deadline to sue Jack for negligence, he still has two more years to sue for breaching their written contract where Jack promised to reasonably ensure Kevin’s safety. This is because the breach of a written contract has a four-year statute of limitations.
Thus even when the statute of limitations on one theory has run, there may be another theory in which a claim can be brought.
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.
A limitations period encourages you to diligently pursue your claims and protects people from having to defend “stale” claims.17
For more information, refer to our related articles by our California personal injury lawyers:
- 5 situations when the statute of limitations is tolled in California
- What is the statute of limitations for negligence in California?
- What is the medical malpractice statute of limitations in California?
- What is the statute of limitations for wrongful death in California?
- “Delayed discovery rule” in California – How it works
- California Code of Civil Procedure §335.1. See, for example: Litwin v. Estate of Formela (; , 2010) Bullard v. California State Automobile Assn., (, 2005) .
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 455.
- CCP §340.2(a).
- The date on which the A.H. Robins Company filed for Chapter 11 Reorganization in Richmond, Virginia. See CCP §340.7.
- CCP §341a.
- CCP Title 2.
- See, for example, Brooks v. Mercy Hospital (Court of California, Fifth Appellate District, 2016) ; Alcott Rehab. Hosp. v. Superior Court (; ) Shalabi v. City of Fontana (; ) Arrow Highway Steel, Inc. v. Dubin (. )
- CCP § 340.3.
- See CCP § 340.6.
- CCP 340.5.
- CCP § 340(c).
- CCP § 352(a)
- California Assembly Bill 218 (2019); California Code of Civil Procedure 340.1 & 1002; Patrick McGreevy, “California grants more time for filing child sexual abuse allegations under new law,” LA Times (Oct. 13, 2019).
- CCP § 340.5.
- CCP § 340.4.
- CCP § 341. Statute of Limitations, California Courts.
- See Jolly v. Eli Lilly (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1103.