The statute of limitations refers to the time period when a person must file a lawsuit against another.

In essence, it is a law which designates the maximum time period in which a person can wait before filing a lawsuit against another.  Generally speaking, the time period starts with the date of injury or claim or when the person should have known about the injury or claim which gives rise to the lawsuit.   So, if a person who has a legal claim against another waits too long from the date of injury to file their lawsuit against the other, the statute of limitations provides the other person a defense, that is, the defense that the lawsuit is time-barred as having been filed after the statute of limitations period and thus the claim or lawsuit should be dismissed.

The purpose of a statute of limitations is best described by three key components


  • First, the main purpose for a statute of limitations is to ensure lawsuits can be dealt with in a timely manner.  In essence, if a person desires to file a lawsuit against another for an injury or claim, they should pursue the lawsuit with reasonable diligence; meaning, file the lawsuit sooner rather than later.


  • The second main purpose is that requiring lawsuits to be filed sooner (rather than latter) after the injury or claim arises, prevents the facts surrounding the lawsuit from becoming stale or even unclear or discernable.  Think of it this way, many of us can remember what we had for breakfast this morning (or even yesterday morning), but can you remember what you had for breakfast the first Monday of the month, six months ago?  Probably not.  This is especially true when evidence is based upon one person’s memories; over time, memories may fade, become inaccurate, or a person holding that information may become incapacitated or pass away.  So, requiring lawsuits be pursued with reasonable diligence ensures that facts and evidence necessary to prove or disprove the claim are fresh and discoverable.


  • Third and finally, the requirement that lawsuits be pursued with reasonable diligence prevents people from filing long drawn-out lawsuits on stale claims merely for harassment purposes.

In California, the statute of limitations varies depending upon the injury or claim. So, it is important to have an attorney assess the statute of limitations period of each of your claims within your lawsuit.  The below are just a few examples of common statute of limitations in California.

Oral Contracts

The statute of limitations for oral contracts is two years in California. Typically, the statute of limitations on oral contracts will start with the breach of one party to the oral contract.  But this is not always the case.

Written Contracts

Written contracts have a statute of limitations of four years. Typically, the statute of limitations on written contracts will start with the breach of one party to the written contract.  But this is not always the case.


A claim of fraud in California has a three-year statute of limitations. Typically, the statute of limitations for fraud will start when the injured party knows of the fraud or should have reasonably known of the fraud committed against them.

In California, there are many different statutes of limitations that impact many different types of claims in a lawsuit.  Also, when the statute of limitations period starts is different for each type of claim.  Ultimately, statute of limitations is a very complex area of law.  Because of this, any person who would like to file a lawsuit against another should have their claims and issues surrounding their lawsuit assessed by an attorney, and sooner rather than later.

Authored by Greg Chilina and Co-Authored by Karen Chilina

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