Posted by Jeremy Swanson
On May 14, 2024

Statute of Limitations

A Limit on Justice?

Many people are familiar with the idea of the statute of limitations because of crime dramas and documentaries. Pop culture has frequently portrayed these laws as capricious, confusing, and irrelevant, and to an injured plaintiff, that portrayal can feel painfully accurate. But the reality of their place and importance in our legal system cannot be avoided. Navigating through the legal system requires a solid understanding of the statute of limitations. We’ll break down the what, why, and how of these laws, so you can keep your case on track and undeterred.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations is a legal designation of a point at which courts may no longer adjudicate over an alleged wrongdoing. For criminal cases, this would mean a date at which a person can no longer be prosecuted for a crime. This is what you will typically see portrayed in TV shows and documentaries, however, the statutes apply to all court cases, not just criminal ones. In civil cases, the statute of limitations prevents parties from suing an offending party once a certain amount of time has passed.

In most cases, the statute of limitations starts a countdown from the time the injury was caused to you, to the date you submit your lawsuit filing to the court. There are a few exceptions to this rule that we’ll cover later, but you need to be aware of what the statute of limitations is in your case. For most personal injury cases in California, it is two years from the date of your injury. This time can vary from state to state, and even from entity to entity. For example, some states have different statutes of limitations if you are suing the government vs. a corporation, insurance company, or private actor.

Why is There a Statute of Limitations?

Like most of our justice system, the statute of limitations was set up to benefit defendants and maintain the presumption of innocence. The statute of limitations was created by Congress as a means of preventing unfair prosecutions after such an extreme length of time that it would have been difficult for a defendant to argue in their defense. After years pass, evidence can be lost and witness testimony can become incredibly unreliable. This applies to more than just criminal prosecution, the presumption of innocence extends to civil suits, and these are also bound by statutes of limitations that prevent you from bringing a claim after a certain amount of time.

This means that when you are considering a lawsuit, you need to know the statute of limitations for the specific claim that you are filing. While the statute of limitations in CA is typically 2 years from the date of your injury across all forms of personal injury, other states may break it down by the individual claim or tort. A personal injury claim in another state based on assault may have different limitations than a personal injury claim based on medical malpractice or neglect, for example.

What Should I Do to Avoid the Statute of Limitations?

The best way to avoid running into a statute of limitations problem is to make sure that you file your suit promptly after your injury. This means making sure that you have aggressively preserved evidence and documented your case to the best of your ability. You can read more about what sort of evidence to preserve in our article here. It also means making sure that the paperwork for your lawsuit is filled out and filed correctly so that you don’t deal with any administrative delay in getting your case on the court’s docket. While many errors can be fixed as long as your initial filing was in on time, some failures can set your case back and risk running into this limitation.

For example, if you file your case in the wrong court and it gets rejected, your time to file suit in the proper court will not typically be extended, and you will have lost that time. This is why hiring a professional attorney is so important. A lawyer will be very familiar with the time limits on your case, when the clock begins ticking, what can stall it, and how to avoid the missteps along the way that can eat your time and cause you to run out.

Is There Any Way Around the Statute of Limitations?

There are a few particular arguments that can be used to set aside the limits. One such example can be delayed discovery, where you were not aware of the injury or the cause of it until recently. If you were unable to file a lawsuit, for example, due to extensive hospitalization, it may be possible to argue for an extension on the limitations as well. Additionally, many torts related to sexual assault in CA have much longer (or no) limitations. However, the statute of limitations is pretty strict and courts are loathe to set it aside. Having a skilled advocate able to identify the arguments you need and present them before the court is crucial to your success.

How We Can Help.

Real life is demanding enough to navigate without the pressures of a strict and particular court system to add on top of it. Having an advocate in your corner who helps manage and present your case can be the difference between an effective settlement and running into a procedural wall. Having taken over 70 cases to trial, our firm has the experience not only to get your case before the court but also to argue it effectively on your behalf. If you’re looking for help navigating the court system, reach out to us here for a free case evaluation.