California Personal Injury Laws You Should Know

California personal injury laws can be confusing, and accident victims should know their rights.  From the statutes of limitation to the rules governing damages you can recover in a personal injury case, the law is complex and is often misunderstood. Below are some of the basic legal principles that every California accident victim should understand so they don't compromise their case and their rights to compensation.

Basic Statutes of Limitation in California Injury Cases

A statute of limitation is a legal rule that sets the amount of time a victim has to file a lawsuit with the court or take some other formal action.  A failure to comply with the limitations period will result in the loss of your right to obtain compensation for the injuries and damages you sustained.  As far as personal injury claims are concerned, the general rule in California is that an adult has two years to file "[a]n action for assault, battery, or injury to, or for the death of, an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another." (California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1)  The time is generally extended for minors, and usually the time commences to run once the child reaches the age of 18.  However, that rule is different if a governmental entity or health care professional caused the injury.

Another basic limitation rule in California, and one often misunderstood, is the statute of limitation that applies to medical malpractice.  In general, the time limit to file an action against a health care professional for injury or death is one year after the [injured party] discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury..." (California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.5)  The statute goes on to explain that in no event will the time be longer than three years, except in very limited circumstances.  While the statute indicates the time limit is either one or three years, the shorter period is the one that most often applies.  The three-year limit is intended to apply only where the injury or its negligent cause was not realized for more than one year.  If that were not confusing enough, California law also requires that "[n]o action based upon the health care provider’s professional negligence may be commenced unless the defendant has been given at least 90 days’ prior notice of the intention to commence the action." (California Code of Civil Procedure Section 364)  In short, a Notice of Intent to Sue is required and is intended to give the health care professional an opportunity to resolve the claim prior to the filing of a lawsuit with the court against them.  If the Notice of Intent is served on the health care provider at a certain time, the limitations period within which to file the lawsuit with the court can be extended.  

In addition to the above rules, there is another general rule that applies to bringing an action for injury or death against a public entity (state, county, city, etc.) in California.  In general, the time within which you must bring a claim against a public entity for personal injury or death is six months from the date of the injury or death. (California Government Code Section 911.2)  Instead of filing a lawsuit directly with the court, the first step is presenting a formal claim to the responsible public entity.  Thereafter, the claim will either be paid, expressly rejected or denied by operation of law.  Once a rejection occurs, the injured party has another six months within which to file a lawsuit with the court.  In practice, personal injury claims are very often denied by the involved public entity, and a lawsuit is required to obtain compensation.

General Rules of Injury Damages Recoverable in California

While generally there are no arbitrary limits set on the amount of compensation recoverable in a civil lawsuit, California law does impose at least a few limits on the amount of damages recoverable by a personal injury victim or their family.  The most noteworthy example is the limit imposed on damages by the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act ("MICRA"), enacted in 1976.  In a medical malpractice case, the maximum recovery allowed to the victim or their family for "noneconomic" damages (pain, suffering, emotional upset, etc.) is $250,000. (California Civil Code Section 3333.2)  In spite of the dramatic increase in the cost of nearly everything else in the world, the MICRA limit has not been changed in the last 45 years.  Consequently, when a family loses their young child because of a health care professional's neglect, the family's recovery at trial is limited to $250,000.00, plus funeral/burial expenses.  

Another principle of California law that can impact a personal injury recovery is one that has to do with insurance coverage.  Typically, when a victim is injured in a slip and fall or an automobile accident, the compensation they receive comes from the insurance carrier for the wrongdoer.  However, where the injury causing event is an intentional or "willful" act there may be questions about whether the insurance carrier is obligated to pay.  Under California law, an insurance company is not obligated to pay for the damages caused by "the willful act of the insured".  (California Insurance Code Section 533)  What this means is that if the only theory you have against someone is that they intentionally harmed you, then the insurance carrier for that person will not be responsible for paying damages.  However, if the defendant was working for a large or even small company at the time of the injury, the employer may be liable for the damages.  It must be proven that the employer knew or should have known of the employee's dangerous propensity or that there was a failure in supervision or training.  In short, it must be shown the employer was also somehow negligent.  While punitive damages are difficult to recover against s corporate defendant for the intentional misconduct of their employees, the fact there is the potential for such damages usually increases the value of any claim as a whole.   

If You Need an Orange County Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured by the misconduct of another party, obtaining the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney can help.  The time within which a claim or lawsuit must be filed can be short and legal advice is something that should be sought right away.  Mr. Ralph has more than 30 years of experience handling personal injury claims, and he is available for a free consultation on your case.  He may be reached anytime by e-mail or by calling the number above during business hours.


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