What is the Property Damage Statute of Limitations in California?

Pay attention to California's statute of limitations, or you could lose your right to get compensation for the costs of repairing or replacing damaged property.

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 Filing Deadline in California

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:

  • "an action for trespass upon or injury to real property" (in other words, a situation where someone enters your property unlawfully and/or does something to damage your home, another structure, or physical land), and
  • "an action for taking, detaining, or injuring goods or chattels" ("chattels" is just an old-school legal term for almost any kind of property that isn’t considered real property, including vehicles, furniture, jewelry, and most anything else).

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 Miss the Filing Deadline

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.

Extending the Statute of Limitations Deadline in California

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:

  • if the defendant (the person you’re trying to sue) was (or is) out of the state for any part of the three-year period, starting from the date on which the property damage occurred, and
  • if you were under the age of 18 or “lacking the legal capacity to make decisions” (this exception can be found at California Code of Civil Procedure section 352).

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.

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