The statute of limitations in California is 2 years. However, as with most things legal, there are exceptions, specifically the discovery rule. Read below to learn more about what can affect the California wrongful death statute of limitations.

Wrongful Death written on a paper with a gavel

What is a Statute of Limitations?

A “statute of limitations” is a procedural court rule that requires lawsuits to be brought within a certain time period. If the case is not filed by this deadline, it cannot be brought in court and will be dismissed.

What is the wrongful death statute of limitations in California?

In California, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of the deceased person’s passing.

However, there is an important exception to the statute of limitations known as the “discovery rule.” In cases where the cause of a person’s death was not apparent when the individual died, but the cause is later discovered, this might extend the amount of time that person’s family has to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

If the discovery rule applies, the statute of limitations will be two years from the date on which the cause of death is ascertained. There are further exceptions to the discovery rule that a wrongful death lawyer can help you understand.

If the wrongful death case is against a public entity, for instance if there is a road design case against the state of California, the heirs of the deceased person only have six months to file a claim with that public entity. Then, typically within 45 days the public entity will deny the claim and the heirs have another six months within which to file a lawsuit.

If it’s a minor, there are special rules. If it’s only a minor who’s suing for the death of a parent then they have until two years from the day they turn 18. And then finally, if it is a medical malpractice case (which GJEL Accident attorneys does not handle), there are special rules there regardless of whether its wrongful death or whether its personal injury.

And in that kind of case you generally have only one year from the date of the death…and even that rule has exceptions, but these are some good general rules.

Every state has limits on the amount of time a person has in which to file certain legal claims, referred to as a “statute of limitations.” These time limits can vary significantly from state to state and from one type of case to the next. For this reason, if you have lost someone you loved due to another person’s actions in California, it is important to understand the statute of limitations for wrongful death actions under our state’s law.

Sorting through state laws to find the correct statute of limitations can be a daunting task. To further confuse matters, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims can vary depending on the underlying cause of the death. The best way to be sure about the statute of limitations in your individual case is to discuss the matter with a highly experienced California wrongful death attorney. In the meantime, here is some brief information regarding the statute of limitations for wrongful death actions in California.

Primary Statute of Limitations in California

The statute of limitations that applies to the majority of wrongful death cases can be found at Section 335.1 of the California Code of Civil Procedure. Specifically, the law states that any action resulting from the death of a person caused by the negligence or wrongful act of another party must be filed within two years. In wrongful death cases, the time starts running at the time of death.

For example, if a car accident instantly killed a victim, the surviving family members would have two years from the date of the accident to file a claim. On the other hand, imagine an accident that caused a serious brain injury and the victim remained in a coma for a full year before they passed away. The family would calculate the deadline to file the lawsuit from the date of death, not the date of the accident that caused the injuries that eventually led to death.

Medical Malpractice

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys does NOT handle Medical Malpractice cases. To find a Medical Malpractice attorney please check with the California State Bar

California Code Section 340.5 sets out the time limit if a death was caused by the negligent actions of a medical professional. In such cases, the family members have three years from the date of the injury to file a claim OR one year from the date the injury was or should have been discovered. This can get complicated and it is important to discuss the statute of limitations with a lawyer immediately if you believe your loved one was a victim of medical malpractice.

Cases Where The Government was at Fault

If a government entity or employee was responsible for the wrongful death, you only have six months to file a claim. This can include car accidents with city vehicles, malpractice at a government-run medical center, accidents at public schools, and more. Time is certainly of the essence in any case involving the government, so consult with an attorney immediately.

Don’t Let The California Statute of Limitations Expire

Because the application of the statute of limitations in California is strict and this rule may prevent you from having your claim heard in court, you should contact a lawyer right away following the wrongful death of a loved one. A lawyer can help you ensure that you file your lawsuit before this deadline passes.

A lawyer can help you ensure that you file your lawsuit before this deadline passes.


If you’re looking to learn more about the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases, there are a number of reliable sources you can consult. 

  1. The California Courts website has a page dedicated to explaining the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases in California:
  2. The California Legislative Information website contains the text of California’s Code of Civil Procedure, which includes information on the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases:
  3. The California Department of Justice website has a page that provides an overview of California’s wrongful death laws:
  4. The University of California Hastings College of the Law has an article on its website that discusses the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases in California:
  5. The California Law Revision Commission has published a report on the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases in California, which can be found here:

Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.