California Statute of Limitations For Defective Products: Time Frames

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California consumer protection statutes allow you to bring an action to recover damages against the manufacturer or designer of a defective product if that product's defects caused you injuries. This is called product liability law, and it can impose strict liability on the manufacturer or designer, regardless of the existence of negligence. But how long do you have to bring this type of a lawsuit?

Search though you might, you won't find a California statute of limitations for product defects. This type of litigation is known as product liability, yet you won't find a statute of limitations for product liability cases in California law, either. Rather, you need to look to the type of injury you suffered from the product's defect in order to determine how long you have to sue.

Usually, someone hurt by a defective product suffers either personal injuries or damages to property. These will be the applicable statutes of limitations in California.

What Is Products Liability in California?

Under California's product liability laws, any person or entity who designs, manufactures or sells a defective product is strictly liable for injuries caused by that product. This strict liability is limited to three types of product defects:

  • Manufacturing defects.
  • Design defects.
  • Inadequate or defective warnings. 

The concept of strict liability is a departure from the usual requirement in California that the person being sued must have acted negligently, willfully or intentionally to be liable for the injuries of another. In defective products cases, liability is imposed by law even if the person or entity was not negligent in any way.

Read More: California Product Liability Laws: The Main Types of Product Liability

Is there a Product Liability Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations provides an outside limit on the time you have to bring a lawsuit. If you fail to file a case within the specified period of time, you generally will lose the right to ever sue on that claim. So, what is the product liability statute of limitations in California?

California doesn't organize limitations periods by types of lawsuits, but by damages. For example, there is no California statute of limitations specifically for car accidents. Instead, state law sets out a general statute of limitations for injuries to a person's body, called personal injuries, and another for injuries to personal property, or property damage. Any claim you have against someone for personal injuries must be brought within two years from the date of the auto accident; you have three years for a claim for property damage. Claims against a government entity are quite a bit shorter.

There is no specific statute of limitations in California for product liability cases. Instead, the statutes of limitations for personal injury and property damage apply. If you suffered personal injury damage from a defective product, you have two years to sue. If you suffered personal property damage from a defective product, you have three years to sue.

What Is the Delayed Discovery Rule?

Generally in California, a limitations period begins to run from the date of the injury, accident or incident. In a product liability case, this would be the date you were injured. These dates may seem easy enough to establish. For example, if your defectively designed flashlight explodes, injuring your eye, the statute of limitations begins to run on that day.

But sometimes the facts of a case are not so black and white. Products liability cases often involve very complex products with designs and defects that are outside the range of common knowledge. For example, if your spouse died following complex surgery, you may not immediately suspect that one of the surgical tools used was improperly designed or manufactured.

California has a delayed discovery rule for just such cases. It pushes out the time when the statute of limitations begins to run until the plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, the cause of action. To use this delayed discovery rule, you have to prove that a reasonable investigation at the time of the incident would not have revealed a factual basis for a products liability claim.