- The function of the California statute of limitations is to place a time limit on the filing of a lawsuit. The California statute of limitations typically calculates the time from the date of the incident that gave rise to the injury that is the subject of the complaint and ultimate lawsuit.
- Under California law, the amount of time from the injury to the time that a lawsuit must be filed varies, depending on the type of case. A personal injury case must be filed within two years while a case involving damage to personal property must be lodged in court within three years. The filing of a lawsuit regarding breach of written contract must be done in four years and within two years for an oral agreement. A product liability case is to be filed in two years and a medical malpractice case within one year of the discovery of the injury or three years from the incident causing the damage, whichever comes first.
- The underlying benefits of the California statute of limitations include availability of evidence. The memories of witnesses may fade over time. Documents become lost. Nowhere is this better illustrated in the California statute of limitations than in considering written versus oral contracts. A lawsuit regarding breach of a written contract must be filed within four years under the statute of limitations while one pertaining to an oral contract must be filed within two years. Evidence in the form of a written contract is more reliable over time than is evidence in the form of an oral contract that relies upon witness memory.
- A common misconception associated with the California statute of limitations is that the parties to a dispute can enter into an agreement "tolling" or pausing the running of the statute. Despite any such agreement of the parties, a court can prevent the filing of a case beyond the time frame of the statute of limitations.
- Because compliance with the statute of limitations makes or breaks a case, if you face a situation involving a dispute about the timely filing of a lawsuit consider retaining an attorney. The State Bar of California maintains a directory of attorneys in different practice areas that may be accessed at its website, calbar.ca.gov.