What is a Statute of Limitations?
In civil matters, a statute of limitations is a law which places a deadline on the time frame in which a victim may pursue a claim against a wrongdoer. This “deadline” varies depending on the cause of action involved, but whatever the time limit, once the statute of limitations expires, the legal claim can no longer be pursued in a court of law. Generally, the reasons behind imposing such limitations include encouraging victims to timely pursue their claims since evidence to support a claim typically deteriorates over time, and to ensure fairness in that a claimant may not continue to impose the threat of legal action against another for an indefinite period of time—the victim must make the choice whether to pursue their claim or not.
Here are some examples of common types of legal actions and the applicable California statutes of limitations:
1) Breach of contract:
- Oral – Two years from the date the contract was breached.
- Written – Four years from the date the contract was breached.
2) Libel or Slander: One year from the date of the injury.
3) Fraud: Three years from the date of offense.
4) Personal Injury: Two years from when the injury occurred, unless the injury was not discovered right way, in which case a victim may pursue a claim for one year from the date the injury was discovered (or should have been discovered).
5)Property Damage: Three years from the date the damage occurred.
6) Claims Against Government Agencies: A claim must be filed with the agency within 6 months (or one year in some cases) from the date the incident giving rise to the claim occurred. If the claim is denied, it is possible to then file a lawsuit in court.
In the criminal context, there are some crimes, murder for example, which are considered so heinous that they have no statute of limitations. This means that they can be prosecuted whether they occurred 6 months ago or 60 years ago. However, in civil cases, each and every cause of action has a governing statute of limitations. Therefore, when contemplating legal action against a person or entity, it is important to determine how much time the victim has available to pursue the claim(s).
In some instances, a statute of limitations can be suspended, aka tolled, which is like pausing the clock in the middle of a countdown to the deadline. Some examples of instances in which a statute of limitations may be tolled include:
If the defendant is:
- a minor,
- out of state,
- in prison,
- or insane.
Once the reason for tolling terminates, e.g., the defendant comes of age or regains competency, the timer on the statute of limitations begins to tick again. Cases where tolling is involved can become extremely complicated, and courts are typically reluctant to toll a statute of limitations, so it is important to discuss your case with an experienced attorney.
Knowing when you may or may not pursue legal action can be difficult to determine for many causes of action. If you have questions about your case, including the applicable statute of limitations, contact our knowledgeable and trusted business lawyers today. We offer a complementary initial evaluation for most transactional and litigation matters.