The law is full of terms and phrases that can be confusing to people unfamiliar with their meaning and significance. One such term is the ‘statute of limitations’ that limits a plaintiff’s ability to recover a financial settlement or reward for their injury. In the state of California, if you were injured by the negligence of another person, you must either file a lawsuit against the negligible (at-fault) party, or settle your case, within two-years in most cases.
The Two-Year Mark
If you were involved in a car crash in which you were injured by another person, you generally have two years to either resolve the claim amicably (settlement), or file a lawsuit. This applies to most general negligence claims when two private citizens or corporations are involved. The California courts are exact in their approach to the statutory limit: two years means two years, not two years plus one day. Do not rely on your own charisma, or exceptional circumstances, or any reason whatsoever for failing to file your claim, or resolve your claim, within the applicable statute of limitations. Judges and insurance companies will not be lenient and make an exception for your case. It does not matter if you travel for work, gave birth, lost the phone number, or are a NASA astronaut and traveled to the moon! The statute of limitations is rigid. Don't miss it!
What About Settling Your Injury Claim?
Also, if you consider your injury claim more or less settled, you still have to provide the insurance carrier a signed release prior to the two year deadline. If you've talked with an insurance adjuster and have basically agreed on a number, but haven't signed a release, or there are other parties that must sign the release in addition to you, you're not safe in the sense that you can expect the insurance company to pay. Most injury attorneys in California will advise you to sign all necessary documents (in the case of settlement), at least a few weeks before the statute of limitations approaches in order to avoid surprise.
What About Public Entities?
If, however, you were injured by what is called a 'public entity,' such as a school bus, or a metro bus, or any other government-owned entity, your statute of limitations is significantly less. In California, you have just six months to assert your claim to the proper entity. This can be confusing, as you are bound by a rigid timeline, but it isn't clear how to proceed with your claim in most situations. A law firm that focuses or specializes in personal injury cases may be a good point of contact to answer your questions and point you in the right direction.
For example, if you were injured by a Metro bus in Los Angeles, there is a claims process that the injured party must initiate prior to the six month mark. Because there are a lot of people injured by buses due to the large volume of its fleet and riders, the process for a bus claim is not as tricky as, say, a claim against a charter school, or a park that you're not sure if it is a city park or not. The six month mark is general, and there are exceptions. From there, the government has forty-five (45) days to respond to your claim. In most situations, you have six months to file a lawsuit from the date of receiving the government's rejection of your claim in the mail. Again, this is a general timeline aimed at giving some helpful information, but the details can be complicated, and it is advisable that you seek the counsel of a reputable attorney if you have any questions regarding how the statute of limitations may affect your claim.
Basic California Car Crash Injury Claims
In most car accident crashes, which account for the majority of personal injury claims in California, the process is fairly straightforward, and there are few surprises. This is of course according to a law firm that focuses entirely on injury cases - if you are trying to handle the settlement or litigation of your injury case by yourself, then you should expect the process to be frustrating, confusing, and not at all straightforward. However, as car crash lawyers handle these cases every day, year after year, there are rarely surprises. This is one reason why personal injury attorneys are often consulted by people who are not sure whether they have a claim, how they should proceed, and don't know whether they can afford a lawyer. The good news is most personal injury lawyers in Orange County and Los Angeles county offer free consultations or case reviews, and they almost all work on a contingency basis, meaning there is no out of pocket expense to the client. The attorney collects a percentage of the total settlement as his or her fee, so the injured person does not have to pay for anything up front.
This Blog Post is Not Legal Counsel
This blog post is meant to inform, but not give a comprehensive legal analysis or provide information upon which you should base your decisions on how to pursue your legal claim. Each injury claim is unique, and your claim may get confusing or tricky fast - such as when several cars are involved, and when one of the cars is a public bus, for example. The most important thing to remember is you don't have forever to decide whether you want to file a claim against the at-fault person. Most injury lawyers would advise that it is always helpful for someone unsure about how the statute of limitations affects their case to talk with a personal injury lawyer who handles California cases.