California Personal Injury Law
Statutes of Limitations:
The amount of time you have to sue whoever caused your injury or damage.
- Personal Injury – 2 years
- Damage to Personal Property – 3 years
- Medical malpractice – 3 years from the date of discovery of the injury or 1 year from the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered the injury.
- Legal malpractice – 1 year from the date of discovery to a maximum of 4 years from the date of injury
- Other professional malpractice – 1 year from the date of discovery
Where to Sue:
- Personal injury claims under $7,500 – Small Claims Court
- Personal injury claims $7,500 or more – California Superior Court
How to Sue:
Small Claims Court:
- Forms: Form SC-100, Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court.
- Where to file: Where the defendant lives or does business, or where the injury occurred.
- How to notify the defendant (service): The defendant should be personally handed copies of the stamped forms after filing.
- Proving the defendant was notified: You must fill out and file a proof of service, Form SC-104, at least 15 days from your trial date.
- Attorneys: Lawyer representation at the trial is not allowed.
- Appealing a small claim: Only the defendant may appeal, except where the defendant has sued the plaintiff (a "countersuit") and won.
California Superior Court: You should seek the help of a qualified personal injury attorney for help. The forms and process for filing a personal injury suit are complex. Errors could cause you to have your claim dismissed, cause you to lose your claim, or could even subject you to court fines.
- Forms: Summons (SUM-100), Personal Injury Complaint (PLD-PI-001), and Civil Case Coversheet (CM-010). Make copies for yourself, for the defendant, and for the court.
- How to File: Bring all the copies to the court clerk in the court where the defendant lives or does business, or where the injury occurred and pay a filing fee. The court will stamp the copies.
- How to Notify the Defendant: A registered process server or have a person over 18 who is not involved in the case must give the stamped forms to the defendant personally and fill out a Proof of Service of Summons (POS-101). Then, bring a copy and the original to the clerk and file the POS-010, keep a stamped copy for yourself.
What to Do if You Are Being Sued:
- Time to Respond to a Summons in California: 30 days.
- You should seek the help of an attorney right away.
- If the injury is related to an incident that occurred at your home or business, contact your insurance company immediately. Your insurance company should provide a lawyer to represent you if you are covered for the claim.
What to Do if A Judgment Was Entered Against You:
If you do not respond to a summons and complaint, a judgment will be entered against you, meaning that the plaintiff wins and you must pay whatever they claim you owe for damages.
- Time to Set Aside a Judgment in California:
- 6 months from the entry of default for mistake, surprise, or excusable neglect
- Within 2 years if you did not have "actual" notice of the lawsuit
- Seek the help of an attorney if a default judgment has been entered against you.
Ways to Collect Your Judgment:
- If you are successful in your California personal injury lawsuit, you may collect your judgment by putting a lien on the debtor's property, having the sheriff take the money directly from the debtor's bank account, or even by garnishing the debtor's wages.
- Seek help from a qualified California debt collection attorney to collect your judgment.