What is the Car Accident Statute of Limitations in California?

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nullThe law imposes a deadline for you to sue someone whose careless or wrongful acts have harmed you. If you do not file the lawsuit in time, the defendant will use the statute of limitations to deny you recovery. Should the court accept the defense, you will lose the chance to present your case and collect compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering and lost earnings.

If you have been in a motor vehicle crash, the time you have to sue may expire perhaps sooner than you think. Promptly consulting with a motor vehicle accident lawyer is an important step to preserve your claim if huge damage was caused. 

What is the Statute of Limitations in California for Car Accidents?

If you suffered only property damage, you have three years from the date of the crash to sue. When personal injuries become involved, the statute of limitations is two years after the accident date. California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1 imposes this deadline when the neglect of another injures you. Generally, car wreck cases that specialized attorneys handle arise from negligence or neglect. As such, most car accident cases that involve injuries will come within this statute of limitations.

The Exceptions

If your child suffered harm, but not you, from another’s negligence, the statute of limitations is tolled until your child reaches age 18. Upon reaching that age, your child then has two years to sue. If you were involved along with your minor child, it may prove best to find an attorney to have all claims in one lawsuit. In other words, if you’re involved, act as if the statute of limitations is two years.

Getting a lawyer involved can seem costly, at first, but ensuring your case is backed by proper legal representation can strengthen your case. They can discuss next steps even if the statute of limitations has otherwise expired. In limited circumstances, a court might excuse your failure to meet the deadline. Under a doctrine called “equitable tolling,” a defendant who knew about the claim and was not harmed by your delay might not be able to prevail on the statute of limitations. Equitable tolling may arise when you pursue other remedies, such as workers’ compensation, if your wreck occurred while you were on the job.

You might avoid a dismissal based on the statute of limitations if the defendant or defendant’s insurance company assured you that the defense would not be invoked while you attempted settlements or took other action. This equitable estoppel principle often occurs when parties enter into a specific agreement to allow a lawsuit to be filed for some period beyond the expiration of the statute of limitations. A motor vehicle lawyer may consider getting such a tolling agreement from the negligent driver’s insurance company if your time seems to run short.

Suing a Government Agency

You face different deadlines if you were injured thanks to the negligence of a driver who was on the job for a state or local government agency. Claims under the California Tort Claims Act may arise from wrecks involving employees operating:

  • City-owned transit buses
  • Law enforcement vehicles
  • Construction vehicles driving to highway projects

Before you file suit, you must file an “administrative claim” with the particular government office or agency you believe is responsible for your damages. That must happen within six months of the crash. If the agency rejects your claim, you have six months from getting that notice to file your lawsuit. Should the government office or agency not respond within 45 days, your statute of limitations runs two years from the date of the crash.

What to Do If You’re in a Car Wreck?

If and when you are physically or medically able, start gathering facts and circumstances involving the crash. You should obtain:

  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of the driver and owner of each vehicle involved
  • The name of the insurance company for each of the vehicles
  • Car model, license plates, vehicle identification numbers (VINs)
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of passengers and witnesses

The identities of the car drivers and owners may dictate the applicable deadlines and whether you must file an administrative claim. For instance, the officer’s report may show that a city or county government in California owns the vehicle that struck you and caused your injuries. In such a case, you or an attorney has less time to initiate your lawsuit than in other car crash cases.

In addition to the driver, vehicle and witness information, a lawyer can use photographs, drawings and videos of the vehicles or crash scene. These images and documentation help explain how the crash occurred and resolve disputes.

Although you have deadlines, it is not necessary or perhaps even advisable to file suit immediately after the wreck. Seek medical attention promptly. This is for the sake of your own health and for your case. So that your lawyer can gather proof of your damages, make a list of all hospitals, physicians, therapists, rehabilitation professionals and others who attend to you for injuries arising from the crash. Keep notes of the hours and days of missed work. You may also need an opinion from a physician about the extent of your disability or other limitations on your ability to work or perform daily activities.

With all of this information, including the police report on file, an attorney will present your damages to the insurance company or government agency to attempt a settlement of your case. If those efforts do not fetch the compensation you need or deserve, then one of our auto accident lawyers will file the necessary lawsuit and keep pursuing your claim. Contact Accident Lawyers Firm today so that your time does not expire.