What is the “Statute of Limitations” and Why Does it Matter?

The statute of limitations may appear to be a technical, legal phrase, but its effect is draconian and an understanding of its application is critical to any claim or suit. No matter what kind of suit you have, from automobile accident, to slip and fall accident, to contract dispute or employment issues, there is a particular statute of limitations that may completely bar your claim if you do not pursue it soon enough.

The statute of limitations constitutes the cut-off date after an event by which the California Legislature has dictated that a person or entity can no longer file a law suit. A statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. Although the statute of limitations is different for various causes of action, once the date dictated by the statute expires, a suit is prohibited by law.

Most lawsuits must be filed within a certain amount of time. One the statute of limitations on a case “runs out,” the legal claim cannot be pursued, for any reason. The period of time during which you can file a lawsuit varies depending on the type of legal claim. The statutes of limitations for some common types of legal disputes is as follows:

• Personal injury: Two years from the injury. If the injury was not discovered right away, the limited may become one year from the date the injury was discovered, as long as the lack of discovery was reasonable.
• Breach of a written contract: Four years from the date the contract was breached.
• Breach of an oral contract: Two years from the date the contract was breached.
• Property damage: Three years from the date the damage occurred.
• Claims against government agencies: A claim must be filed with the agency within six months (for some cases, one year). If the claim is denied, you can then file your lawsuit in court but there are still strict that apply.

Knowing when the statute of limitations runs out on a claim is not always easy to determine. Contacting a lawyer soon after an injury-producing event, even for the sole reason of ensuring that you know when the time period for filing suit expires, may be necessary.

Government claims

When you sue a government agency, you first have to certain documents before any lawsuit may be filed. A claimant is required to file an administrative claim with the government office or agency before you file in court. You also have to use the government’s form to file the claim.

• For personal injury or personal property damage, generally you must file your administrative claim within 6 months of the date of the injury.
• For breach of contract and real property damage cases: You must file your administrative claim within 1 year of the date the contract was broken or the real property damage occurred.
After you file your claim, the government has 45 days to respond. If the government agency denies your claim during the 45 days, you have six months to file a lawsuit in court from date the denial was mailed, or personally delivered to you. If you do not get a rejection letter, you may have 2 years from the day the incident occurred to file a lawsuit.

Statute of limitations “Tolling”

The statute of limitations may be suspended (“tolled”) for a period of time, only to commence running again, depending upon specific circumstances. Even then, the tolling is for a very specific time period. For example, if a claimant does not discover the harm or injury from the event, the statute of limitations may be tolled until the harm is either discovered, or should have been discovered by virtue of reasonable inspection.
If you have suffered any injury or believe that you have any kind of claim, knowing what the deadline is for filing your suit or bringing your claim is of paramount importance.