A “statute of limitations” (SOL) are laws that tell you how much time you have to file a lawsuit. Once the time expires, a court will not allow a lawsuit to proceed on the matter if the SOL defense is raised. This article discusses when the SOL time period starts (accrues) under California law.
Why are there Statute of Limitations?
Civil statutes of limitations protect defendants from having to defend stale claims due to lack of diligence by plaintiffs [See Davies v. Krasna (1975) 14 Cal. 3d 502, 512]
SOL are "designed to promote justice by preventing surprises through the revival of claims that have been allowed to slumber until evidence has been lost, memories have faded, and witnesses have disappeared. (See Adams v. Paul (1995) 11 Cal. 4th 583, 592).
CALIFORNIA LAW REGARDING “ACCRUAL” OF THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
In general, civil action statute of limitations only begin (commence) “after the cause of action shall have accrued ...." Code of Civil Procedure § 312
The applicable statute of limitations does not begin to run until the cause of action accrues, that is, " 'until the party owning it is entitled to begin and prosecute an action thereon.' " (Spear v. California State Auto. Assn. (1992) 2 Cal.4th 1035, 1040.
When does a cause of action accrue?
Generally, in "ordinary tort and contract actions," the limitations period begins when the "last essential element to the cause of action" occurs. (Neel v. Magana, Olney, Levy, Cathcart and Gelfand (1971) 6 Cal.3d 176, 187; Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. v. City of La Habra (2001); Norgart v. Upjohn Co. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 383, 397 25 Cal.4th 809, 815; Fox v. Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. (2005) 35 Cal.4th 797, 806). even if the Plaintiff was ignorant thereof, and even if he or she did not know the identity of the wrongdoer (Neal, supra., at p. 187, and see Gale v. McDaniel (1887) 72 Cal. 334, 335.
Aggrieved parties generally need not know the exact manner in which their injuries were "effected, nor the identities of all parties who may have played a role therein." (Teitelbaum v. Borders (1962) 206 Cal.App.2d 634, 639.
Statutes of Repose exception:
One category of "statutes of limitations" which are not that common are called "statutes of repose." A statute of repose cuts off a right of action after a specified period of time [Giest v. Sequoia Ventures (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 300]. Stated another way, "a statute of repose begins when a specific event occurs, regardless of whether the cause of action has accrued. It cuts off a right of action even if the plaintiff lacks notice of the claim." Crossman v. Daimler Chrysler Corp. (2003) 108 Cal.App.4th 370. Example: California Code of Civil Procedure Section 337.15 sets a 10-year time limit on filing a lawsuit regarding a cause of action for latent (unknown) construction defects. Thus, unless there is some other exception, the SOL clock begins to run on "substantial completion" of a development or an improvement to land, and not from the time of damage or from discovery of the damage. Inco Development Corp. v. Superior Court, (2005) 131 Cal.App.4th 1014.
Examples of Elements of a Cause of Action:
1. Elements of a fraud cause of action: See article:
and Misrepresentation Law
2. The elements for a basic breach of contract are:
(1) the existence of a contract,
(2) plaintiff's performance or excuse for non-performance,
(3) defendant's breach, and
(4) damages to plaintiff therefrom.
Acoustics, Inc. v. Trepte Construction Co. (1971) 14 Cal.App.3d 887, 913.
3. The elements of a cause of action for negligence are:
(1) a legal duty to use due care,
(2) a breach of that duty,
(3) a reasonably close causal connection between that breach and the plaintiff’s resulting injury, and
(4) actual loss or damage to the plaintiff.
of Statute of Limitations specific articles on this website:
CAVEATS / WARNINGS:
SOL laws are complicated: Statutes of limitations, and the court rules and cases that interpret and apply them, are complicated. Even if you believe that the statute of limitation deadline might have passed or might be extended by an exception, do not rely on this article, but immediately seek consultation and legal advice from a knowledgeable California lawyer to determine if any of the time-extending exceptions or rules to the statue of limitations apply or not to your case.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is informational, only. The subject matter and applicable law is evolving and/or constant state of change. No legal advice is given and no attorney/client or other relationship is established or intended. The information provided is from general sources, and I cannot represent, guarantee or warrant that the information contained in this website is accurate, current, or is appropriate for the usage of any reader. Consult with your own legal counsel before relying on any information on this website or this article.