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Statute of Limitations

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Posted on July 8, 2021

What is a statute of limitations and why does it matter?

If you are involved in an accident or you are a victim of insurance bad faith, one of the first questions you need answered is how long you have before you have to file a lawsuit.  This is generally called the statute of limitations and is essentially the time you have to either resolve your claim or file your lawsuit.  If you are a sports fan, think of this like the shot clock in basketball- if you do not shoot the ball before the shot clock expires, you lose the ball.  The same concept applies in civil litigation- the statute of limitations is the time period you have to either settle your claim or file a lawsuit.  If you do neither of these things, your claim will be barred and just like in the basketball example, you will lose and your claims will be barred.

What is the statute of limitations for my case?

There are two main factors that determine what the statute of limitations is in your case- the type of case or claim you have and whether or not the defendant, or at fault party, is a private person or business vs. a governmental entity.

Statute of limitations depending on the type of case you have

  •  Car Accident

If you were involved in a car accident and got hurt, generally the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the accident.  If in that same car accident your car was damaged, generally the statute of limitations for the property damage is three years from the date of the accident.

  • Insurance Bad Faith

If you are the victim of insurance bad faith, generally the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the bad faith.  Be careful though because some insurance policies shorten the statute of limitations to one year from the date of the bad faith or the date of loss.  Another thing to consider is that in California there is no claim for insurance bad faith against a third party company.  What this means is that if you are involved in a car accident and make a claim against the at fault person’s insurance and they are being unreasonable and acting in bad faith, you cannot sue that company for bad faith.  Generally in California you only have a potential insurance bad faith claim if it is against your own insurance company and/or there is a first party relationship between you and the insurance company.

  • Government Entity Cases

Certain claims and actions against public entities or employees must be properly made in as little as six months after the harm occurred. This is why it is highly important to know not only how long you have to file a certain type of action, but also how long to bring a claim against certain types of defendants.

If you have a personal injury or property damage claim involving a government entity the statute of limitations is much shorter than if your claim is against a private person.  For example, if you were driving down the street and got hit by a local police officer, you would have to file a government claim within six months of the accident.  The same six month timeline applies to a claim for damage to your personal property or a wrongful death claim if there is a governmental entity involved.  There are very specific requirements for the type of information that is required in a governmental claim and also the manner in which the claim must be delivered or “served” on the governmental entity.  Many governmental entities have their own specific claim forms but it is always a good idea to consult with any attorney to make sure you include all the necessary information and also timely deliver the claim to the governmental entity in the required manner.

After you file a governmental claim, the governmental entity has 45 days from the date you file your claim to take action.  If the governmental entity denies your claim in writing, you have 6 months from the date the denial letter was postmarked or mailed to file a lawsuit against the governmental entity.  If the governmental entity no action within 45 days of you filing the claim, the claim is deemed denied and you may sue the governmental entity in court.  If this happens and the governmental entity does not notify you in writing of the denial of your claim, you have 2 years from the date of loss or accident to file a lawsuit against the governmental entity.

Personal Injury 2 Years 6 Months
Insurance Bad Faith 1-2 Years Depending on the Insurance Policy
Damage to Personal Property 3 Years 6 Months


For many claims the statute will be straight forward. If you are hit by a car while walking across the street, resulting in a broken arm, you’ve suffered a personal injury and have 2 years to bring an action against the individual. But, if you were hit by somebody in the course and scope of their work for the city then you would have 6 months from the date the injury occurred to file a claim with the city.

Some claims can be a little trickier. Let’s say you were involved in a three-vehicle car accident where one driver was a private individual and the other a public employee driving in the scope and course of their work. Although you would have two years to file an action against the private individual, you would only have six months to make a claim against the public employee. This can be dangerous because if you miss the deadline to file a claim against the public employee, the private individual can defend themselves by claiming it was the public employee’s fault. If the jury believes that version of events, then you could be left without just compensation for your injuries.

If you have any questions as to whether your claim is still within the statute of limitations or when you will need to file, it would be prudent to contact a lawyer today. An experienced attorney will have a strong understanding of the various statutes and usually can inform you at no cost. The attorneys at Haffner & Morgan offer no cost consultations and are happy to answer any questions you may have.