People who receive a personal injury caused by other people’s negligence often wonder how long they have to pursue compensation for the expenses and damages sustained. When individuals are still recuperating or in pain, handling legal details is not always a top priority.

The Statute of Limitations Is Important

All states have set time limits on how long individuals and the government have to initiate action against someone in various civil and criminal cases. This period is known as the statute of limitations.

With a two-year personal injury statute of limitations, California falls toward the low end compared to other states. A small handful have a shorter limitation of one year while a number of states share California’s two-year limit. However, more than 20 other states have statutes of limitations running three, four, five or even six years for personal injury cases.

Although statutes of limitations vary according to jurisdiction and type of offense, they are meant to bring as much order, fairness and closure to cases as possible. The goal is to give everyone involved time to evaluate the circumstances, retain counsel and decide on the wisest course of action. The statute of limitations also defines a reasonable end to the situation. For example, if a store customer is injured while shopping, the matter should be fairly settled, and the owner shouldn’t have to worry 20 years later about paying further compensation.

Another important reason for the statute of limitations is the need to arrive at a settlement while witnesses are readily available, and the memories of everyone concerned are still fresh and accurate. We live in a busy, mobile society, and if too many years elapse, it may be hard to locate vital witnesses. In the case of the customer injury, the testimony of store employees could be critical. After several years, these workers may move to another state or change occupations. Unfortunately, witnesses also sometimes die or become incapacitated and unable to testify.

The Calendar Pages Start Turning Immediately

Generally, the statute of limitations for a personal injury starts on the date the incident occurred. This means if someone’s dog bites you in a California public space right now, the statute of limitations for this injury begins today, and you have two years to file a claim.

Delayed Discovery

Occasionally, the full effects of a personal injury do not show up right away. If the dog not only bites you but also shoves you forcibly to the ground, and you land on your head, brain or nerve damage might not appear for an extended period. According to California law, when injuries are not immediately apparent, the statute of limitations begins from the date of the injury’s discovery and runs for one year.

Suspension of the Statute of Limitations

Another rare situation occurs if an injured person cannot sue because the individual at fault is in prison, has moved to another state or is underage. In these circumstances, the statute of limitations may be suspended, or tolled, until the situation changes. For example, the statute of limitation might be paused because an injured party in an auto accident cannot sue a driver who has been incarcerated. When the driver is released from prison, the statute of limitations starts up again.

Claims Against the Government Have Special Rules

California law provides a special process for suing a government entity. If you have suffered an injury or loss due to the negligence of a government agency, the first step is to file a claim form directly with this agency or department. If your claim is approved and you are compensated, the matter ends. If your petition is denied, you have six months to file a suit in court.

Document the Facts and Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

California’s two-year statute of limitations may seem sufficient to file an injury claim, but multiple circumstances can complicate matters. In many cases, you also need to negotiate with an insurance adjuster, and legal representation strengthens your position. Remember that courts usually dismiss any case filed outside the statute of limitations, so contact an experienced professional at the Law Offices of Brent D. George today for a free consultation.