Like every state, California has enacted laws that place time limits on your right to go to court and file a lawsuit. These laws are called “statutes of limitations,” and there are different rules for different kinds of cases. The time limits relevant to filing a lawsuit over a car accident in California are:
•two years for filing a personal injury lawsuit (Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 335.1)
•three years for filing a lawsuit for property damage (i.e. damage to a vehicle) (Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 338).
Keep in mind that these time limits apply to filing a lawsuit after a car accident — not to filing an insurance claim. But it’s a good idea to make sure that any insurance claim is filed well before these deadlines for filing a lawsuit expire. That’s because if settlement negotiations break down, you’ll want to have plenty of time to use the fallback option of filing a personal injury lawsuit in court (or at least threaten to use it in an attempt to get some leverage in negotiations). Bottom line: after a car accident, your safest bet is to get any insurance claim filed as soon as possible in order to protect your rights.
One last note on time limits: If your car accident involved the government in any way (a city bus rear-ended you, or the accident happened on government property, for example) you’ll need to follow a different set of rules when filing a claim against the government. Those rules require you to get your paperwork in pretty quickly, so throw the above deadlines out the window where the government is concerned