California Car Accident Statute of Limitations


If you’re filing a claim for personal injury in California, you generally have two (2) years from the date of the injury to file a claim, with a few exceptions.


If you are injured in a car accident, your immediate focus should be on seeking appropriate medical attention and following your doctor’s orders for rest and recovery. In many situations, car accident injuries prevent victims from working or engaging in regular activities for a period of time while they heal. This can make it difficult to think about anything besides your injuries and your physical health.

However, as you recover and undergo treatment, your medical bills may begin to pile up and become stressful and concerning. In addition, if you cannot work, losing income can increase your financial worries. For these reasons, you may begin thinking about how to recover financially for your losses. However, if you cannot work or move around easily, you may be hesitant to call an attorney until you feel better.

Many people also worry about the cost of a lawyer and, therefore, put off picking up the phone. What you may not realize is that you only have a limited amount of time to file a claim in California due to the statutes of limitations set out in state law.

What are Statutes of Limitations?

“Statutes of limitations” are laws that set forth the time period within which you may file a particular legal claim. Different types of legal cases have their own statutes of limitations, from personal injury to criminal to breach of contract claims. For a claim arising from a car accident, you will need to comply with the statute of limitations for either personal injury or wrongful death claims, depending on the circumstances.

To complicate things further, each state has different time limits, so it is imperative that you seek assistance from an attorney who is specifically familiar with the statute of limitations that applies to your case under California law.

How Long do you Have to File a Claim?

If you are filing a claim for personal injury in California, you generally have two (2) years from the date of the injury to file a claim, with a few exceptions.

The first exception applies when the injured victim is a minor. In such cases, the statute of limitations does not begin to “run” until the minor’s 18th birthday. The victim then has two years to file a claim after they turn 18.

The second exception occurs when you do not discover an accident-related injury immediately after the accident. Some injuries may take days or weeks for signs or symptoms to develop; in such cases, you may have two years from the date of discovery of the injury to file a claim. However, in this situation, it may be more challenging to prove that the injury actually stemmed from the car accident and not from a subsequent event. An attorney can review your case and determine how long you have to file your personal injury claim.

If a traffic collision caused a tragic death, surviving family members generally have two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death claim. This is often a different date than the date of the accident. For example, if your loved one sustains a catastrophic injury and is in a coma for six months before succumbing to the injuries, the statute of limitations will expire two years after the death, not the accident.

Finally, if a car accident damaged your vehicle but did not result in any type of personal injury, you generally have three years from the date of the collision to file a claim for property damage in California.

Compensation for Future Losses

Following a car accident, the full value of your losses may not be readily apparent. Many accidents result in injuries that have long-lasting effects and require ongoing treatment for years or even for the rest of your life. Many injured victims wonder how it is possible to file a claim within two years of the injury if they do not yet know how much the injury will ultimately cost them. Fortunately, the law allows you to seek compensation not only for the losses you have already incurred but also for the demonstrable losses you estimate you will incur in the future.

In situations involving severe and lasting injuries or permanent disabilities, it is critical to have an attorney handling your case who understands how to accurately estimate and prove future losses. It is not enough to simply guess regarding future losses; instead, such determinations can involve complex calculations based on many different factors including:

  • The nature and severity of your injuries;
  • The amount of treatment your doctors believe you will need with costs adjusted for estimated inflation over time;
  • Whether you sustained impairments that prevent you from working and whether you will ever be able to return to work;
  • Your age and relative health prior to the accident;
  • Your earning capacity and life expectancy;
  • The income and benefits you received prior to your injuries.

Such calculations often require the help of economic, occupational, and medical experts. Your attorney should have the resources needed to make these calculations so you can claim the full amount you deserve despite the statute of limitations.

Filing a Timely Insurance Claim

Some insurance policies have time limits within which you must file a claim following an accident. You should not wait too long to file such an insurance claim, in any event. While the California statute of limitations applies to lawsuits and not to insurance claims, you should always keep these statutory time limits in mind. Insurance negotiations can take weeks or months; you want to be sure you have plenty of time to prepare and file a legal claim if insurance settlement negotiations do not result in an adequate settlement offer.

Contact an Experienced California Car Accident Attorney Today

Lawsuits take time to investigate and prepare, so you never want to wait until the very last minute to consult with a personal injury attorney about your car accident claim. Please do not hesitate to call GJEL Accident Attorneys at 866-218-3776 for a free consultation so we can begin working on your case.