If you've been involved in a car accident in California, the state's statute of limitations for car accident lawsuits could come into play somewhere down the line. In this article, we'll discuss:
A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a limit on the amount of time you have to go to court and file a lawsuit over some type of harm or loss. The specific deadline depends on the type of case you want to file.
As in most states, the statute of limitations that affects injury-related car accident lawsuits in California is the same as the larger one that applies to all personal injury cases filed in the state's civil court system.
Specifically, California Code of Civil Procedure section 335.1 sets a two-year deadline for the filing of any lawsuit over harm caused by "negligence," which is the legal basis for establishing fault in most injury cases, including those arising from car accidents.
The answer to this question usually comes down to whether the car accident resulted in injury or in death. If anyone was injured in the crash, they must get their lawsuit filed within two years of the date of the accident.
But if someone dies as a result of the accident and their family brings a wrongful death case against the at-fault driver, the "clock" starts on the date of the person's death, if it's different from the date of the accident.
If you only want to file a lawsuit over damage to your vehicle, California Code of Civil Procedure section 338 gives you three years to get that kind of case filed against the at-fault driver. (Learn more about vehicle damage claims.)
In this situation, the court will almost certainly refuse to consider your case, unless it falls under one of the rare exceptions that will extend or pause the running of the statute of limitations "clock" in California. For example, a longer time limit might apply if:
From a strategy standpoint, you want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a car accident lawsuit in case you need to—even if you're confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process. At the very least, preserving the option to go to court and file a lawsuit will give you more leverage during injury settlement talks.
If your car accident may have been caused by the negligence of the government or a government employee, any claim you make will need to follow a special set of rules. Learn more about filing a claim under the California Tort Claims Act.
It's possible to handle a car accident claim on your own, if you're comfortable with the process and confident that you can fight it out for the best result. But if you've been seriously injured, there may be a lot at stake, and it might make sense to discuss your situation (and your options) with an experienced legal professional.
Learn more about how an attorney can help with your car accident claim. You can also get more details about California car accident laws that could affect your potential case.