If you're thinking about bringing a defamation case to court in California, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for these kinds of lawsuits. Read on for the details on the filing deadline in California, why it's so important, and when the deadline might be extended.
You have one year to file a defamation lawsuit in California, according to California Code of Civil Procedure section 340(c). And the "clock" begins to run on the date on which the defamatory statement is first made. Even if the statement is later repeated or republished, the one-year clock doesn’t reset, and the plaintiff isn’t entitled to bring another lawsuit. What matters is the date on which the defamatory statement was first made or first published, for purposes of the running of the statute of limitations, and for purposes of asking a court for defamation damages. This “one time only” rule is laid out in California’s Uniform Single Publication Act (California Civil Code section 3425.1 et al).
In California, as in most states, defamation can take the form of either:
California’s Civil Code identifies a number of scenarios that could serve to delay the start of the statute of limitations "clock" for potential defamation lawsuits (or pause the clock after it has already started), effectively extending the one-year filing deadline set by section Civil Code section 340(c).
Here are a few examples of circumstances that are likely to modify the standard one-year timeline:
If more than a year has passed since the defamatory statement was first made, and no exception applies to extend the statute of limitations deadline, but you try to file a defamation lawsuit in California's courts anyway, it's a near-certainty that the court will summarily dismiss your case. If that happens, you’'ll have lost your right to ask any court for a legal remedy for the defamation, no matter how much harm it may have caused you.
It's important to note that the one-year California statute of limitations isn't just a factor if you've decided to take your defamation case to court. It’s also crucial to your position if you’re negotiating an out-of-court settlement with the person who made/published the statement. If the statute of limitations deadline has passed, and the other side knows that your filing a lawsuit is now a procedural impossibility, you'll have lost all your leverage.
If you have questions about how California’s statute of limitations applies to your potential defamation lawsuit -- especially if the one-year deadline has passed or is looming -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced California attorney.
Learn more about defamation, libel, and slander.