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What Happens When the Statute of Limitations Expires?

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A statute of limitations is a time limit imposed on legal actions of all sorts, including personal injury claims. Each state has its own set of rules about statutes of limitations. In California, there is a two-year statute of limitations on most personal injury claims.

When the two-year statute of limitations ends, you lose the right to seek a recovery from the liable party. If you try to file a claim when the statute has ended, then the court will discard your case before hearing it, even if you say you have a mountain of great evidence that proves the defendant caused your injury. It is important to seek out legal counsel as soon as possible after an accident to ensure there are no issues with the statute of limitations.

Tolling the Statute of Limitations

Once a statute of limitations ends for a personal injury claim, there is little to no chance of a court bringing it back. But there are ways that the statute of limitations can be paused or “tolled” while it is still active.

A statute of limitations can be tolled if the defendant or liable party is:

  • Under 18: Minors cannot be sued for compensation, and a minor’s parents cannot always reasonably act for them in legal situations. If the defendant is a minor and no adult can act for them, then a claim brought against them will not have its statute of limitations begin until they turn 18. Oppositely, minors who need to sue for compensation and have no adults to represent them can have the statute of limitations tolled until they are legal adults.
  • Imprisoned: People who are imprisoned cannot represent and defend themselves if they are sued for compensation by an injured plaintiff. The statute of limitations can be paused until they are out of prison, or a situation can be arranged to allow the case to continue while they are still imprisoned.
  • Mentally incompetent: Defendants who are deemed mentally incompetent by a medical professional can be prevented from representing themselves in lawsuits. A court can toll the statute of limitations for personal injury cases against them until a reasonable arrangement can be made to have someone represent their interests in the case, such as a family member or attorney.
  • In another state: When a defendant is in another state than where a case against them is filed, the statute of limitations usually does not start until they return to that state. However, it might not be tolled if the case can reasonably begin through remote measures, such as representation from an out-of-state lawyer.

Once tolling a statute of limitations is no longer necessary, the statute will resume or begin as normal. For example, once an imprisoned defendant is released from prison, any pending injury claims against them will be able to resume, and the claimants will have to take action before the resumed statute of limitations expires.

For more information about statutes of limitations on California personal injury cases, you can contact the Law Offices of Larry S. Buckley. We assist clients throughout Northern California with a variety of case types.