How California Statutes Affect Personal Injury Claims

Personal injury claims fall under a field of law called “torts.” Tort law derives from English common law and court cases throughout California’s history.

But some of the principles that govern personal injury claims appear in California’s laws and statutes. From insurance laws to statutes of limitations, California’s legislature has codified many of the issues that are central to personal injury claims.

Here are some of the statutes that affect personal injury claims in California.

Definition of Negligence

Unlike many states, California includes a definition of negligence in its statutes. California law imposes liability “for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”

This definition does not set out the elements of negligence. But it sets out the expansive nature of negligence claims in California. 

For example, a person injured in a car accident must show that another driver failed to exercise ordinary care in driving. Similarly, a person injured in a slip and fall accident in a business must show that the business failed to exercise ordinary care and skill in the management of the premises.

This broad definition allows negligence law to adapt to new circumstances and technologies. Negligence law applies to autonomous vehicles, internet communications, and social media platforms simply by determining if tools were used in a way that failed to meet the standard of ordinary care.

Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations exists to provide certainty. Claims for personal injury expire at the end of the statute of limitations.

Injured people in California must typically bring injury claims within two years of their injury. This statute of limitations applies regardless of the cause of the injury, with an exception for medical malpractice

You must file a lawsuit for car accidents, premises liability, dog bites, and other bodily injuries before the second anniversary of the incident that caused the injury. If you don’t, the statute of limitations will bar you from recovering damages.

Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

California law separates medical malpractice claims from other forms of personal injury. The medical malpractice statute of limitations incorporates a “discovery rule.”

Under the medical malpractice statute of limitations, the injured patient must file a lawsuit within the earliest of:

  • Three years of the medical error
  • One year of discovering the medical error
  • One year after the patient could have discovered the error

For example, suppose that a doctor performed knee surgery on a patient and accidentally severed a nerve in the patient’s leg. The patient could file a medical malpractice lawsuit three years after the operation. 

Tolling Statutes of Limitations

California’s statutes suspend the limitations periods in certain instances. These tolling provisions excuse a lawsuit filed after the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Some examples of events that extend the statute of limitations include:

  • The person who caused the injury left California
  • The injured person was under 18
  • The injured person was mentally incompetent
  • Either party was called to military service

In these situations, courts will suspend the statute of limitations until the event that caused the suspension ends. 

For example, if a 16-year-old suffers a car accident injury, a court can toll the statute of limitations until the victim’s 18th birthday, then start the two years. In this example, the 16-year-old victim can file a lawsuit any time before their 20th birthday.

Sovereign Immunity

California statutes give government entities immunity from lawsuits. The same statutes also waive immunity in certain circumstances. 

For example, you can sue a government employee who acts negligently after undertaking a discretionary duty. Thus, you might have a case against a police officer who prepares an accident report without first investigating the accident.

Sovereign immunity only applies to actions undertaken in the scope of the government employee’s employment. For example, a building inspector has immunity for the consequences of negligently approving a construction project. But the building inspector is not immune from negligently causing a scaffold to collapse onto a construction worker.

Comparative Fault

California’s law on comparative fault arises from both statutes and case law. In California’s statutory definition of negligence, a person is not liable for damages caused by the injured victim.

California’s courts have interpreted this statutory provision to provide the basis for a reduction in damages according to comparative fault principles.

Comparative fault reduces an injured person’s damages by their share of the fault. Suppose that a driver hits a pedestrian. The pedestrian was not in a crosswalk and stepped into the road without first looking. The driver was speeding and intoxicated. 

In this case, both parties bear some fault. If the jury assigns 15% of the fault to the pedestrian, the driver only needs to pay 85% of the damages awarded by the jury.

Wrongful Death

California’s statutes define the scope of a wrongful death claim. This claim arises when someone dies due to the wrongful or negligent acts of a person or business.

Many states limit wrongful death claims to the deceased person’s estate. Other states require the deceased person’s survivors to file the wrongful death claim. California’s wrongful death statute creates the ability to file both types of wrongful death claims.

The deceased person’s estate can maintain an action against the person or business who caused the death to recover damages incurred by the estate, such as funeral expenses and pain and suffering before death. 

The deceased person’s survivors can maintain an action for damages they suffered, such as the deceased person’s financial support.

Determining How California’s Statutes Affect Your Claim

These examples merely scratch the surface of the California statutes that can affect injury claims. To assess the ways that California’s laws affect your personal injury claim, you may need to consult a lawyer.

An experienced injury lawyer can use knowledge gleaned from prior cases to identify statutes that will affect your claim. If the lawyer does not know whether California’s statutes affect your claim, the lawyer can perform legal research to find the answer.

Our attorneys at Mission Personal Injury Lawyers, P.C. are ready to help you and to discuss your injury claim and whether specific statutes in California may affect it. Contact our law offices in San Diego or call us at (619) 777-5555 for a free consultation.