Deadlines to sue someone

In general, you have to sue someone within a certain amount of time of something happening. This is called the statute of limitations. You'll generally lose your case if you try to sue after the deadline has passed.


Statute of limitations are fact specific and can be tricky to calculate. If you are not sure or have doubts if you meet them, talk to a lawyer.

Figuring out your deadline

There are different deadlines depending on why, and sometimes who, you're suing

Common statutes of limitations:

  • Personal injury: 2 years from the injury.

  • Breach of a written contract:  4 years from the date the contract was broken.

  • Breach of an oral contract: 2 years from the date the contract was broken.

  • Property damage: 3 years from the date the damage occurred.

Some crimes, such as murder, are considered so terrible that they may have no statute of limitations.

Sometimes, if the problem (like the injury or damage) was not discovered right away, the statute of limitations generally starts counting from the date the problem was discovered or should reasonably have been discovered, whichever comes first. These situations can be complicated and the time limits can be hard to figure out. Talk to a lawyer if you think this situation applies to you and you need to rely on this rule to meet the deadline.

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If you're suing a government agency, or someone who was working for one, the deadlines are different and there are other requirements. For example, you will first need to submit a claim to the government agency by a much earlier deadline.

In some cases, the deadline can be extended

There are some laws that say if something has happened that period of time doesn't count against your deadline. This is called tolling. For example, tolling may happen when the person bringing the case (the plaintiff) is a minor. When the reason for the tolling ends (like if the minor turns 18), the statute of limitations begins to run again.

Tolling during the COVID-19 pandemic

Statutes of limitations that are more than 180 days were tolled from April 6, 2020 to Oct 1, 2020. This means that this time doesn't count against the deadline. This might extend your deadline to sue. California Emergency Rule of Court 9.

Get legal help if you have questions about the statute of limitation or tolling

It's not always easy to figure out what deadline applies to your case. And, tolling can be hard to figure out. If you think your deadline has passed or that tolling might apply, talk to a lawyer. They can figure out your deadline or give you advice.

More statutes of limitations

You can find most statutes of limitations in California Code of Civil Procedure sections 312-366. Read the section that applies to your case. It often has more details you need to know. There are also cases analyzing and applying the statutes to a particular set of circumstances.  This can be important to help you understand how the rule works. 

Statutes of Limitations

Type of problem or case


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. This does not include medical malpractice.

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.

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. Also for breach of sale of goods, see California Commercial Code section 2725.

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. 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 that 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 healthcare provider (medical malpractice) for their care or treatment. California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5. If you are going to sue a healthcare provider you must give them 90 days' notice before filing. California Code of Civil Procedure section 364.

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.

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.


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