Civil Law Cases – An Overview on Time Limits

In Santa Clarita, like anywhere in California, when a conflict arises between two or more people, businesses, or governmental agencies, these conflicts are better resolved through the civil litigation process. As you may know, litigation is commenced by filing a lawsuit which brings the disputed matter before the court, with the court acting as an impartial third party. In short, the judicial process allows the parties to present their case to a judge, who then determines the facts of the case based on the moving papers, the exchange of discovery questions and answers, and other documents and related testimony between the parties. The judge then determines the applicable or governing law, applies the appropriate law to the stated facts, and thereafter issues his or her judgment.

However, before all that can happen, a case has to be filed within time limits that are specified or “set” by law. These time limits are known among judges and lawyers as “statutes of limitations” or “SOL.” Each SOL varies depending on the type of legal claim filed by the Plaintiff. If you are a resident of Santa Clarita, California, in the event you forget or fail to file a case within the time limit set by law, you may lose the right to file a legal claim. The professionals at Low Cost Legal Pros say “may lose” because, occasionally, a party gets lucky by filing an otherwise late claim and the opposing party and his lawyer might overlook the SOL. Again, this is a rare occurrence, but, the folks at Low Cost Legal Pros have seen it happen over the course of 25 years as a result of someone’s ineptitude or lack of attention to detail.

Nevertheless, understanding California’s statutes of limitations is critical. At a minimum, a party should always check the SOL’s by going online with the California Court, or, you should consult with a Santa Clarita based attorney or other legal professional in Santa Clarita, California, such as Low Cost Legal Pros regarding your situation to make sure you file your claim within the time allowed under California law. Here are some general tips regarding statutes of limitation:

Injury to a person. The defendant hurts you with or without intending to hurt you. For example, personal injury accidents, wrongful death, assault, battery, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, wrongful act, or negligent act, etc. California Code of Civil Procedure section 335.1.

2 years
from the date of injury.

Damage to property. The defendant damages or destroys your property either with or without intending to damage it. For example, taking your personal property (conversion), crashing your vehicle, going onto your property without permission (trespass), fraud, nuisance, etc. California Code of Civil Procedure section 338. Also for breach of sale of goods, see California Commercial Code section 2725. 3 years
from the date the property was damaged.
Libel or slander.  The defendant defames you in print, writing, or pictures (libel) or verbally (slander). California Code of Civil Procedure section 340(c). 1 year
from the date of injury.
Oral contracts. Contracts that you and the defendant did not write down. California Code of Civil Procedure section 339.  (Most oral contracts will have some sort of writing, e.g., a receipt, a canceled check, etc. This writing may be proof that you had an oral contract.) 2 years
from the date the contract was broken.
Contracts in writing. California Code of Civil Procedure section 337. 4 years
from the date the contract was broken.
Known (apparent) problems (called “patent defects”) in real property improvement design, survey, construction, etc., and resulting injury to property or person. California Code of Civil Procedure section 337.1. These usually are lawsuits against architects, contractors, or builders. 4 years
from the date the construction was mostly finished.
Unknown (not apparent) problems (called “latent” defects) in real property improvement design, survey, construction which cause damage to real estate or personal property. California Code of Civil Procedure, section 337.15. These usually are lawsuits against architects, contractors or builders. 10 years
from the date construction was mostly finished.
Personal property left at a hotel, hospital, rest home, sanitarium, boarding house, lodging house, or apartment, etc. California Code of Civil Procedure section 341a. 90 days after departing from premises.
Against a health-care provider (medical malpractice). 1 year from the date plaintiff knows or should have known about the injury, or 3 years from the date of the injury whichever is the earlier date. California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5Note: If you are going to sue a health-care provider you MUST give them 90 days’ notice before filing. California Code of Civil Procedure section 364. 1 year (In some cases, 3 years. Read the law).
Against a bank. If a bank paid on a check that was signed without authorization or where the signature was forged. California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 340. 1 year from the date the bank paid out the funds.
Against government agencies or offices. These cases require that you file a special claim (called an “administrative claim”) with the government office or agency before you file in court. You have to use the government’s form to file the claim.

  • Personal property and personal injury/death cases: You must file your administrative claim within 6 months of the date of the injury. Government Code section 911.2.
  • Breach of contract and real property damage cases: You must file your administrative claim within 1 year of the date the contract was broken or the real property damaged. See the reference to claims relating to “any other cause of action” under Government Code section 911.2.
  • After you file your claim, the government has 45 days to respond. Government Code section 912.4.
    • If the government agency
      • Denies your claim during the 45 days, you have 6 months to file in court from date the denial was mailed or personally delivered to you. Government Code sections 912.4, 912.6.
      • Does not respond to your claim during the 45 days, you have 2 years from the date the  incident occurred to file in court. Government Code section 945.6 (a)(2).
      • Consult with an attorney to make sure you file your claim and file your lawsuit before the deadline.
6 months from the time of the injury to file an administrative claim OR 1 year from the breach of contract or real property damage to file an administrative claim. When to file a court case depends on whether your administrative claim is denied or not responded to. If your claim is not responded to, talk to a lawyer to find out how much time you have to file your lawsuit.

Once you have established the appropriate or applicable SOL, as described briefly above, a typical civil case follows the following general steps:

1. The Complaint is filed and a Summons issued by the Court.
2. The Summons and Complaint are served on the Defendant.
3. The Defendant files an Answer to Complaint or other responsive pleading.
4. The Plaintiff and Defendant engage in and exchange discovery documents.
5. One of the parties files a Motion for Summary Judgment and argues it before the Court.
6. Both parties file last minute pre-trial motions to protect their “position.”
7. All parties appear at Trial and a Judgment is rendered or issued.

Of course, in the event the defendant fails to file and serve his Answer to the Complaint (See No. 3, above), the plaintiff can take the defendant’s default and proceed to obtain a Judgment. When this happens, the discovery process is bypassed completely and a Judgment can be obtained quickly. Thus, if you are a Santa Clarita or Antelope Valley resident and need assistance with a legal matter, or, some general guidance with your case, contact Santa Clarita’s caring legal professionals at Low Cost Legal Pros. Now, that’s good advice!

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