If you’ve suffered damage to your property in California, whether it is real property (damage to your house or your land) or personal property (including vehicle damage), you might be considering filing a lawsuit against the person or organization that you think is to blame. If so, it’s important to understand California’s statute of limitations for property damage claims.
In case you’re not familiar with the term, a “statute of limitations” is a state law that limits your right to file a lawsuit over any kind of legal dispute or harm suffered, by putting a limit on how much time can pass before you file the case in court. Every state has passed these laws, and the time limits vary depending on the subject matter of the lawsuit.
The same deadline (found in the same statute) applies to the filing of any lawsuit seeking the repair or replacement of damaged or destroyed property in California, whether it’s real property or personal property. Specifically, California Code of Civil Procedure section 338 sets a three-year deadline on:
It’s important to note that this three-year deadline applies any time you’re asking a court to award you monetary compensation for damaged or destroyed property, whether that claim is part of a larger legal action (a car accident case that includes claims for both personal injury and vehicle damage, for example) or a standalone lawsuit.
If you try to file your California property damage lawsuit after the three-year deadline has passed, the defendant will almost certainly make a motion asking the court to dismiss the case, and the court will grant the dismissal, except in rare cases where an exemption from the deadline applies (more on these exceptions in the next section). So, even if you’re pretty sure your case will settle, you still want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit if you need to.
In a California property damage lawsuit -- and most other kinds of civil lawsuits, for that matter -- a number of situations could pause (“toll” in legalese) or extend the lawsuit filing deadline set by the statute of limitations. These include:
Other exceptions too numerous (and complex) to list here may also apply to extend the California statute of limitations time limit. If the three-year deadline has passed on your property damage lawsuit and you think one of these exceptions applies to your situation, it’s time to talk with an experienced attorney to understand your options and protect your rights.