The statute of limitations plays an important role in personal injury cases in California. More specifically, the statute of limitations generally operates to prohibit injury victims and plaintiffs from bringing lawsuits against defendants if a certain amount of time has passed. There are a variety of statutes of limitations: in California, personal injury cases (such as slip and falls, car crashes, and catastrophic injuries) must be brought within two years. Courts typically begin the statute of limitations “clock” on the date that the injury incident occurred. For example, if a victim suffered injuries in a car crash on December 31, 2016, that victim would have until December 31, 2018 to bring a lawsuit against the parties he or she felt were responsible for causing his or her crash.
What Happens if the Statute of Limitations is Exceeded?
The statute of limitations does not technically stop a plaintiff from filing a lawsuit out of time; however, the defendant or defendants named in the suit would have the opportunity to raise the expiration of the statute of limitations as a defense to the suit. At this point, evidence and/or testimony may be received by the court and the court may subsequently:
- Find that the statute of limitations has indeed expired and dismiss the case. This terminates the case and the plaintiff is not eligible to refile the lawsuit again; or
- Find that an exception to the statute of limitations applies, that the statute of limitations period has not passed, and allow the case to proceed.
Exceptions to the statute of limitations are exceedingly rare. However, California and other states may permit the statute of limitations period be “tolled” (or stopped) for a period of time if your injuries were not easily discoverable.
Tolling the Statute of Limitations Based on the “Discovery of Harm” Rule
If you took reasonable steps to obtain medical evaluation and treatment after your injury accident (such as proceeding immediately to a hospital or urgent care center and following your doctors’ orders) and you were nonetheless oblivious about the extent of your injuries, the court may toll the statute of limitations until the time it believes you either discovered your accident-related injuries or you should have known about your injuries. Consider two examples, using the hypothetical crash above:
- If you did not learn that you suffered a serious tissue injury until you went to the doctor on June 1, 2017 for a routine checkup and you had no other indications of injury, the statute of limitations period may begin to run on June 1, 2017.
- If you began to feel excruciating pain a week after the crash but did not see a doctor until June 1, 2017, the statute of limitations period may begin to run on the date you began experiencing the pain.
Contact Your California Personal Injury Law Firm Today
Even if you believe the statute of limitations has passed in your case, it does not hurt to have your case evaluated by the experienced and professional personal injury lawyers in the Inland Empire. We fight to help our clients obtain compensation, and we can evaluate the facts of your case to see if an exception to the statute of limitations would permit your case to proceed. Call us at (951) 682-6400 or complete our online form and discuss your personal injury case with us today.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcfarlandmo/