After getting into a car accident, the victim of the crash can seek to resolve the matter with a car insurance agency. However, a more effective way to receive compensation is to fill a lawsuit with an attorney. 

In order to be fully compensated for your injuries in California, you will need to file a personal injury lawsuit. A lawsuit must be filed within the statute of limitations (the filing deadline) or it could be dismissed. Below is an introduction to California auto accident laws and their statute of limitations. 

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

Statute of limitations is a legal definition that is used to describe the amount of time that a plaintiff has to file a claim against another party. The claim must be within a specific amount of time or the claim may be dismissed and the attorney may be liable for sanctions. In other words, the statute of limitations is a deadline for filing their lawsuit, and if enough time has passed, the plaintiff or criminal prosecutor cannot bring their case against the defendant.

The deadline for filing a lawsuit varies depending on if the claim is criminal or civil in nature and the applicable state statutes where the plaintiff is filing the lawsuit. Various other factors may also influence the filing deadlines. 

As stated above, one purpose of the statute of limitations is ensure that a claim does not drag on for an unknown amount of time.  The statute of limitations is a legal tool that allows plaintiffs to pursue valid claims against defendants. However, it only applies when the plaintiff’s claim falls within the statute of limitations for the state the claim is filed in. 

When the deadline for the statute of limitations starts and stops depends on the jurisdiction and where the claim is being filed. For example, a claim filed in state A may not have the same statute of limitations as state B. If the statute of limitations of a car accident in state A is 2 years, the statute of limitations for a car accident in state B could be 3 years.  

From a policy standpoint, the statute of limitations forces a plaintiff to bring a claim that is timely and to prevent long term unnecessary litigation that negatively affects the outcome of a case. 

California’s Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents

In the state of California, the statute of limitations for car accidents is two years. Because a claim for a car accident case for damages is generally a civil case, the statute of limitations in California is also two years. 

The two year requirement is the same for all personal injury cases in California. Under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1, a two year filing period is set for actions that result in an injury or death, or any harmful negligent act to another party. But if your claim is only to recover damages on a vehicle or other property then you have three years to file a claim. 

The two-year time period starts on the date of the accident in question, unless the accident resulted in the death of the victim. If the car accident did cause the victim’s death, then the statute of limitations starts on the date of the victim’s death. This means the claim generally must be filed two years from after the day of the accident took place, in order to be in compliance with the California statute of limitations. 

For example, if Fred was injured in a car accident on March 1, 2010 in California and Fred wants to bring a claim for personal injuries that resulted from his car accident,  Fred will have until March 1, 2012 to bring a claim. If he does not bring a claim by March 1, 2012 he will violate the statute of limitations. 

As explained above, the relevant statute of limitations changes depending on the jurisdiction the claim is filed and the type of claim. 

What are Some Legal Remedies Available in a Car Accident Lawsuit?

If the injured party files a claim or lawsuit, they will generally be requesting some form of economic compensation from the party that is responsible for causing the accident. The most common way to do this is through the concept of damages. 

Damages are economic relief given to a party that has had harm committed to them. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering and mental anguish. It also includes what is called loss of consortium or the interference in the spousal or parent-child relationship, which may also be rewarded depending on the circumstances. 

There are two types of damages in a civil lawsuit involving a car accident: compensatory damages and punitive damages. While compensatory damages are almost always rewarded in a case involving a car accident,  punitive damages are only awarded for excessive negligence and are rarely awarded in a car accident case.  Listed below is a more in depth analysis of both types of damages. 

Compensatory damages are the most common remedy in a civil lawsuit. The goal of compensatory damages is to put the party that was injured in a similar place, before the accident happened. The injured party should be made whole again and  be given relief from the accident. 

For example, suppose that Mike and Joe are in a car accident and Joe is found at fault. Here, Mike may be entitled to compensatory damages for any injuries resulting from that accident that help put Mike in a position to feel as closely as possible to how he was before the accident took place. 

Punitive damages are a special category of compensation after a car accident or personal injury. Punitive damages are different from damages compensatory because they do not compensate the victim for any injuries or damages that he or she might have suffered. Instead punitive damages are awarded for the excessive conduct and its primary purpose is to punish the wrongdoer for its conduct. 

Punitive damages are rarely awarded for a car accident injury; however, knowing the difference between compensatory damages and punitive damages is still important in understanding what damages you may be entitled to. 

Consulting a California Personal Injury Attorney

The statute of limitations is a complex and detailed concept, but also very important to your legal claim. Missing a statute of limitations deadline may prevent you from being able to bring your claims against a defendant. If you are considering filing a lawsuit for your car accident, you should be mindful of the statute of limitations in your state.

If you do not act in a timely manner, not only will evidence be lost, your right to file suit will be gone. If you are unsure about the laws applying to your case, or have any other questions about the statute of limitations you should contact a California car accident lawyer for assistance. 

A personal injury lawyer will  represent you at hearings and work in your best interests in receiving compensation in your car accident case. A personal injury attorney will also help explain the statute of limitations to you in better detail and will represent you in other aspects of your car accident case.