Do not wait to file your small claims court lawsuit! After an incident occurs, you only have a set period of time to file your lawsuit. Think of this as a deadline (called the statute of limitations). Once the deadline is reached, you cannot file your California Small Claims Court lawsuit.
What is the Statute of Limitations?
The California legislature sets deadlines (called the statute of limitations) for when a lawsuit can be filed. There is a different statute of limitations period for each type of case. A lawsuit cannot be filed after the statute of limitations has been reached.
How to Look Up the Statute of Limitations
To look up a specific statute of limitations period you can go straight to the source on the California Legislative Information website. There you can find the California Code of Civil Procedure that lists all the statute of limitations periods.
Common Statute of Limitations periods for California Small Claims Court
This is not a complete list but rather some of the most common statute of limitations periods affecting small claims court lawsuits.
Lawsuits involving written contracts → 4 years from the day the contract was broken. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 337)
- You have a written lease and your landlord fails to return your security deposit.
- You have a written lease and the tenant fails to pay rent.
- You have a written lease and you move out before the end of your lease but the landlord does not attempt to rerent the unit and mitigate the damages (specifically Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 337.2)
- A written contract for the performance of a service.
- A written contract for the sale of a good.
Lawsuits involving oral contracts → 2 years from the date the contract was broken. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 339)
- An oral lease (Failure to pay rent/ Failure to return security deposit).
- An oral contract for the performance of a service.
- An oral contract for the sale of a good.
Lawsuits involving property damage → 3 years from the date the damage occurred. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 338)
- You get in a car accident and your car is damaged (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 338(b))
- Someone stole or won't return property that belongs to you (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 338(c)(1)).
Lawsuits involving personal injuries → 2 years from the date of the injury. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 335.1)
- You get in a car accident and suffer injuries as a result of the accident.
However, if the injury is not immediately discovered → 1 year from the date the injury was discovered.
Lawsuits involving fraud → 3 years from the date the fraud was discovered. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 338(d))
- Someone sells you a car that they said had never been in an accident but it had.
Negligence by a Healthcare Provider
Lawsuits involving negligence by a healthcare provider → 3 years from the date of the injury. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 340.5).
- A dentist negligently extracted your tooth.
However, if the injury is not immediately discovered → 1 year from the date the injury was discovered (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 340.5).
Lawsuits involving defamation → 1 year from when the defamatory statement is first published or made available online. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 340.5(c), Traditional Cat Ass'n, Inc. v. Gilbreath, 13 Cal.Rptr.3d 353, 358 (Cal. Ct. App. 2004)).
Suing a Government Entity
- To sue a government entity such as a city or county, you must first file paperwork with the government entity before being allowed to sue in court.
- This paperwork is normally known as an administrative claim.
- Generally, you have 6 months from the date you were injured to first file the administrative claim with the government entity.
- The government entity will then review the administrative claim and see if they would like to settle with you.
- Afterward, you may be able to file a lawsuit in small claims court.
- Please keep in mind that the statute of limitations listed above may be different when they involve the government. For example, if your car is damaged by a pothole on a county-owned road, the deadline to sue the government may be different than if you were suing a car mechanic for property damage. Do not delay filing your administrative claim and later your small claims. Make sure to consult an attorney if you have any issues determining the statute of limitations.
- Learn more about claims against the government here.
For more information on the statute of limitations see here.