How injury law works in the state of California

If you have been injured in the state of California and the injuries are the result of the intentional, negligent, or unintentional actions of another person you may have the right to seek compensation through a California personal injury lawsuit.

Not all injuries are the fault of others or allow for compensation. To win your case you will have to prove certain elements of your California claim. If you can prove your claim, however, you may receive lost wage compensation, paid medical expenses, and benefits for pain and suffering.

Proving an injury claim in California

To win your personal injury claim in California you will have to prove your case through a preponderance of evidence. You will also have to file your injury claim within California's statute of limitations. If, however, you wait to file your claim and the statute of limitations has expired, you will forfeit your right to compensation, regardless of the severity of your injuries.

Most California injury claims are settled out of court, but to ensure you get all the compensation you deserve you may need to talk to a California injury lawyer. It is especially important to seek legal help if you cannot negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance company, you have been severely injured or permanently disabled, or you are cannot return to work.

Winning an Injury claim in California

All states require injured claimants who are seeking compensation through an injury claim to prove certain elements of their case. To win your California injury claim you will have to prove the following:

  • The defendant owed you a duty of care.
  • The defendant failed to exercise reasonable care (which means they acted in a manner contrary to what other people would have done in a similar situation).
  • Their negligent, intentional, or unintentional actions or inaction caused you injury or loss.
  • You, the plaintiff, suffered actual injury or loss, including pain and suffering, lost wages, or medical expenses.
  • The claim was filed within the California statute of limitations.

Statutes of Limitations for filing a California personal injury claim

As mentioned above, all states have established a statute of limitations for filing different types of injury claims. Not only does the statute of limitations vary by state, they also vary by type of injury.
General information about the statute of limitations in California for injury claims is listed below:

  • Libel- 1 year
  • Medical malpractice- 3 years from the date of injury or 1 year from the date of discovery
  • Personal injury- 2 years from the date of injury
  • Product liability- 2 years
  • Slander- 1 year
  • Wrongful death- 2 years from the date of death
  • Damage to personal property – 3 years
  • Breach of written contract – 4 years
  • Breach of oral contract – 2 years

Review state laws for more specific information about the amount of time you have to file your claim. If you wait too long to file your claim and the statute of limitations has expired, you will lose your right to recovery.

Consider, however, the statute of limitations may be stopped or "tolled." For example, if you are a minor at the time of injury or the injury is a medical malpractice claim where a medical instrument is left in your person. In some cases the statute of limitations does not start until the minor's 18th birthday or until the object is discovered or should have been discovered.

The statutes of limitation for many types of civil cases are found in the California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) §§ 312-365.

What if my actions contributed to my own injuries?

California follows the pure comparative negligence rule when determining the amount of compensation to award a personal injury victim. Under this rule, injured claimants may receive compensation for their injuries, regardless of their percentage of fault (assuming it is less than 100%).

For example, if you and another person are injured the court will determine the percentage of fault for each person. Based on these assigned percentages, each person will be responsible for the medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other financial damages.

For example, if you were speeding but another car made an illegal lane change and hit you, the jury may determine that you were 35% at fault for the accident and the other driver was 65% at fault.  If the damages added up to $20,000, under California's pure comparative negligence rule, your compensation will be reduced to $7,000 (or the $20,000 total cost minus the $7,000 that represents your share of fault for the accident).

Pure comparative negligence is considered by some to be the most equitable and fair determination of compensation. Unlike other states that eliminate a claimant's right to compensation if they contributed at all to their injuries, California's pure comparative negligence rule allows for you to receive compensation even if you were found to be 99% responsible for your own injuries, although the jury or court will substantially reduce your compensation.

Compensation limited by damage caps

Passed in 1975, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) has limited the amount of compensation paid for non-economic damages in California medical malpractice claims. Although this cap does not affect economic damages such as lost wages or medical costs, opponents of medical caps argue that the law is outdated, especially because it has not allowed for inflation.

Efforts were made in November of 2014 through California's Proposition 46 (the Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Cap and Drug Testing of Doctors Initiative) to increase the state's cap on non-economic damages from $250,000 to over $1 million.

The initiative was defeated with opponents successfully convincing the state that the measure was less about protecting patients and more about increasing compensation for California personal injury lawyers.

California injury claims against the government

Individuals injured due to the negligence of a California government employee or agency of the government, both on the state and local level, may seek compensation for their personal injuries, but claims must first be filed with the proper government agency prior to filing an injury claim.

All claimants against the government, referred to as administrative claims, must be filed with the proper entity within six months from the date of injury or personal property damage. If the claim is for a breach of contract or real property damage the claim may be filed within one year from the breach or damage.
After the government entity receives the claim they are required to respond within 45 days. They have the option to deny the claim, ignore the claim, accept part of the claim, approve the claim, or provide notice to the claimant that the claim is insufficient.

If the claim has been denied or ignored, you have six months to file a lawsuit. If the entity does not respond within the required time period of 45 days this is considered a denial, and you will have 2 years from the date of the injury to pursue your lawsuit.

To confuse matters further, if the government chooses to eventually respond, although the 45 days has passed, you would then have 6 months to file your claim.

Talk to an injury lawyer if you have questions about your case.