California's Statute of Limitations: Negligence

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Negligence is careless behavior that can cause harm to someone. In and of itself, carelessness is neither a crime nor even a potential basis for a lawsuit. It becomes a legal problem for the negligent person when someone is injured and suffers damages as a result of that negligence. California's statute of limitations for negligent behavior depends on the type of damage that the injured person suffered.

What Is Negligence?

Just like parents tell kids to behave themselves, the legal system requires that a person's conduct live up to a standard of care. If conduct falls below that standard, a person is termed negligent and liable for any damages caused by the negligence.

Negligence without resulting injury cannot be the subject of a lawsuit. For example, you are negligent if you leave your best shoes outside in the rain, but nobody can sue you for it. But if negligence causes damage to other people, they can sue.

In order to constitute legal negligence, four different components, or elements, must be proved. They are:

  • duty.
  • breach.
  • causation.
  • damages.

The duty to use reasonable care is the legal standard for most people. Anyone driving a car, for example, has a duty to use reasonable care while doing so. If one fails at that duty, it is called a breach. The driver breaches the duty of driving with reasonable care by running a red light.

Causation means that the breach of duty caused injuries. If the driver hit a child in the crosswalk because of running the red light, causation is established. Damages means that the injured child had expenses and losses from getting hit. These can include pain and suffering.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations is a law that tells you how much time a party has to commence legal action after a specific incident. There are criminal statutes of limitations that set the time limit for a prosecutor to charge someone with a crime, and there are also statutes of limitations for bringing civil lawsuits.

Statutes of limitation (SOL) are not enacted in order to let someone off the hook as time passes. Rather, limitation periods are intended to push people to act promptly when they are filing a lawsuit. Evidence is fresher and more readily available and witness memories are stronger close to the time of the accident or occurrence.

What SOL Applies to Damages from Negligence?

When one person's negligence injures another person or her property, it can be the subject of a lawsuit. Since there is not a negligence statute of limitations in California, what limitation period applies when someone sues for damages from negligent behavior? How long does a victim of negligence have to sue?

The limitation period for bringing suit depends on the type of damages suffered. Consider negligence while driving an automobile, which can cause a variety of different types of damages.

Read More: California Negligence Law: The Elements of Negligence

Statute of Limitations for Property Damage

Think of an automobile accident. A speeding car can hit another car or motorcycle and dent, damage or destroy it. That is called property damage. Property damage includes real property, or land a person owns, and personal property, or items a person owns.

The California statute of limitations for property damage is three years. A suit for property damages must be filed within three years of the accident causing that damage.

Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury

A speeding car may also hit a person, causing personal injury damages. Even when the car hits another car, it can cause personal injury damages if the driver or a passenger in the vehicle is injured. Damages from personal injury can include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and even wrongful death.

The statute of limitations for personal injury damages is usually two years from the date of the injury. However, if the negligence is that of a medical provider, the medical malpractice statute of limitations applies. That statute is one year from the date of discovery of the malpractice, or three years from the injury. There are also shorter limitation periods if the alleged wrongdoing is by a government agency.