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Time Period for Filing (Starting) Lawsuits

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(Statutes of Limitations)

Each case (or cause of action – the legal base for the case) has a life cycle. It begins when the problem occurs. When it ends depends on the type of case it is.

This table lists the most common time periods for starting lawsuits also known as filing a claim. The law on time periods for starting lawsuits is found in California Code of Civil Procedure, Sections 312-366.

Check the Code of Civil Procedure sections if the problem is different from those listed here because the time period to sue may be anywhere from months to many years.

Time Period during which You May Sue (or Be Sued) Type of Problem (or Case)
2 years
from the date
of injury
Injury to a person’s body. The defendant hurts you physically with or without intending to hurt you. For example, accidents, assault and battery, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, etc. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 335.1. Opens new window
3 years
from the date the property
was damaged
Damage to property. The defendant damages or destroys your property either with or without intending to damage it. For example, stealing your personal property (conversion), crashing your vehicle, going onto your property without permission (trespass), fraud, nuisance, etc. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 338, Also for Breach of sale of goods Commercial Code 2725 and domestic violence. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 340.15. Opens new window
2 years
from the date the contract
was broken
Oral Contracts. Contracts that you and the defendant did not write down. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 339. Opens new window (Most contracts will have some sort of writing, e.g., a receipt, a canceled check, etc. This writing will be proof that you had an oral contract.)
4 years
from the date the contract
was broken
Contracts in Writing. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 337. Opens new window
4 years
from the date the construction was mostly finished
Known (apparent) problems in construction (called ‘patent’ defects) which cause damage to real estate or personal property. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 337.1. Opens new window These usually are lawsuits against architects, contractors or builders.
10 years
from the date construction
was mostly finished
Unknown (not apparent) problems in construction (called ‘latent’ defects), which cause damage to real estate or personal property. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 337.15. Opens new window These usually are lawsuits against architects, contractors or builders.
3 months (90 days) To get back property from a hotel, hospital, or apartment, etc. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 341a. Opens new window
1 year Against a health provider from the date plaintiff knows or should have known about the injury, or 3 years from the date of the injury which ever is the earlier date. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 340.5. Opens new window

Note: If you are going to sue a health care provider you must give them 90 days notice before filing. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 364. Opens new window
1 year Against a bank. If a bank paid on a check that was signed without authorization or where the signature was forged, from the date the bank paid out. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 340. Opens new window
6 months
(180 days)

from the time of the injury to file an administrative claim

or

1 year
from the breach of contract or real property damage
to file an administrative claim


When to file a court case depends on whether your administrative claim is rejected or not responded to.
Against government agencies or offices. These cases require that you file a special claim (called an administrative claim) with the government office or agency before you file in court. You have to use the government’s form to file the claim.
  • Personal injury cases: You must file your administrative claim within 6 months of the date of the injury. Government Code, Section 911.2. Opens new window
  • Breach of contract and real property damage cases: You must file your administrative claim within 1 year of the date the contract was broken or the real property damage. Government Code, Section 911.2. Opens new window
  • After you file your claim, the government has 45 days to respond. Government Code, Section 911.2. Opens new window
    • If the government agency
      • denies your claim during the 45 days, you have 6 months to file in court from date the denial was mailed or personally delivered to you. Government Code, Section 945(6)(a)(1).Opens new window
      • does not respond during the 45 days, you have 2 years from the original date when the injury occurred or the contract was broken. Government Code, Section 945(6)(a)(2). Opens new window


The Time Period for Filing a Case Stops and is Extended

(The Statute of Limitations is Tolled)

Sometimes the time period for filing a case (statute of limitations) may stop (called tolling) and the life cycle of the case is extended. If the time to file your case appears to have passed, check to see if the time period to file was stopped for a time and extended.

Calculate the time for filing by adding the time that the case was stopped to the time for filing the case (statute of limitations). Cases dealing with tolling may be very complicated and you should consider getting legal advice.

Note: Tolling does not usually apply to government claims.

The most common examples of tolling are given below.

What Tolls the Time for Filing a Case Time Period to File
Defendant not in California
when the problem occurred
The time to file begins to run when defendant returns to California. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 351. Opens new window
Defendant in California
when the problem occurred but left before the time period to file the case ends
The time to file stops when defendant leaves and begins to run again when s/he returns. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 351. Opens new window
Plaintiff is under 18 when
the problem occurred
The time to file begins to run when the person turns 18. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 352. Opens new window
Plaintiff is insane when
the problem occurred
The time to file begins to run when the person is no longer insane. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 352.Opens new window
Fraudulent Concealment
of the defendant’s identity or of fraud by defendant (misleads or misrepresents facts; the plaintiff doesn’t know the truth and relies on facts defendant provided)
The time to file begins to run when the plaintiff finds out the truth (by case law).

 

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