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Personal Injury Lawsuit – How Long do I Have to File?

graphic, how long do I have to file?

Santa Rosa – Petaluma – Ukiah – Lakeport

Are you wondering how long you have to file a Santa Rosa personal injury lawsuit? If you have a personal injury, you need to file a lawsuit against the person or company who injured you within a certain amount of time. The period of time you have to file your case is called the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations begins to run on the date of your injury or the discovery of that injury (which will be explained in just a bit).

There are all different types of personal injuries. California, as every state, sets different statutes of limitations for the different types. The California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) (https://www.leginfo.ca.gov) tells you how long you have to file each type of lawsuit.

CCP § 335-349.4 is where you find most of the statutes of limitations. Generally, for a personal injury based on another person’s negligence, you have two years from the date of the injury to file. If you did not discover the injury right away, then you have one year from the date that you discovered the injury. For medical malpractice, you have three years from the date of injury or one year from the date of discovery of the injury, whichever occurs first. For property damage, you have three years from the date the damage occurred. For a claim against a government agency, you must file a claim with the agency within 6 months, or in some cases, within one year, from the date of the injury. If the claim is denied, you should then file in court within the proper period indicated above. Claims against government agencies sometimes have further complexities.

Here’s where things can get tricky. What if a case involves a personal injury and property damage? Say there is a car accident, the bumper of the victim’s car falls off, and the victim driver suffers whiplash. California follows the primary right theory. Under this theory, a claim, or a cause of action, is based on the harm suffered. This means that the victim can file separate lawsuits for separate causes of action. The victim still needs to be mindful of the statute of limitations. He or she should file a suit within two years for the personal injury and within three years for the property damage.

What if someone incurred a personal injury because another person committed a crime? In that situation, first, the victim should seek restitution as part of the criminal case. The victim should talk to the prosecutor (district attorney) to make sure that his or her compensation was part of the defendant’s plea offer. Then the victim would attend a restitution hearing where he or she would argue for a certain amount in damages. If the victim didn’t get as much as he or she deserved, or the prosecutor didn’t feel that damages should be part of the plea offer, the victim would have to file a civil lawsuit against the defendant in civil court.

Be aware that sometimes the statute of limitations can be suspended, or tolled. The statute can then begin to run again when the reason for the tolling ends. Some reasons a statute of limitations would be tolled are the defendant is a minor, the defendant is out of California, the defendant is in prison, or the defendant is insane. In these situations, the tolling ends when the defendant turns 18, comes back to California, gets out of prison, or regains his or her sanity.

Here are some typical questions and answers about personal injury lawsuits.

Q. I was exposed to a toxic substance on many occasions. What is the date of my injury?

A. Usually, the last date on which you were exposed. If there was a particularly important incident, such as you got sprayed in the face with a dangerous chemical on May 3, and your harm appears to stem from that incident, even though you accidentally touched some of the chemical on a later date, May 3 would be the date of your injury.

Q. Should I keep texts, voicemail messages, emails, and letters from the person who injured me?

A. Yes. Any communication with the person or company who injured you is helpful and relevant to your attorney. Put the communications in chronological order, print them out or organize them digitally, and deliver them to your attorney in a way they can be easily accessed. For example, if you have a bunch of texts, forward these to your email account. Then print them out or forward your attorney digital copies in a zip file.

Q. How do I deal with my insurance company, especially if I think I am partially at fault?

A. You should let your lawyer talk to your insurer. Your insurer has its own interests at heart, and that includes paying the least amount of damages possible. If you say you were at fault, even if you were not, your insurer may delay or refuse payment. Talk to your lawyer before talking to your insurer.

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