How long do I have to file a small claims case

How long do I have to sue in small claims court?

Recently on our legal forum we had a user ask, "How long do I have to file my claim in small claims court?" Unfortunately, as with many legal questions, the answer is it depends. States have varying statute of limitations which can vary from other states. Within states different types of cases may also have varying time frames to file claims.

For instance, if you have been injured due to the negligence of another person you may have one year from the date of injury in some stated to file a claim. Other states may allow you two years to file your claim for the same injury. If, however, you are suing someone for breach of contract you may have up to four years to sue in one state and five years in another state.

Consider also, in some cases the statute of limitations can be tolled which means it doesn't start until discovery of the injury. If the injured party is a minor the statute of limitations may not start until the minor reaches 18 years of age.

How do I find the statute of limitations?

Without more information about the case and the state where the questioner lives it's impossible to offer specific legal advice, but the first step to answer the question is to identify what type of case the user would like to file.

For instance, the statute of limitations will vary by case. Cases are broken down into categories including: personal injury from negligence or intentional wrongdoing, property damage from negligence or intentional wrongdoing, breach of an oral contract, breach of a written contract, professional malpractice, libel, slander, fraud, trespass, a claim against a governmental entity (usually a short time), etc.

Why is there a statute of limitations?

Statute of limitations were constructed to force claimants to file cases before memories faded, evidence was lost and witnesses died. With this in mind, if you have a case, it's time to file the claim now. The good news is the statutes of limitations are generally not less than one year, so if the accident or loss just occurred, you have some time. To find the laws for your state you can search on your state's name and state statutes. For instance, if you live in California you can Google "California state statutes" for a list of the statutes for your state.

As mentioned above, the statute of limitations will vary by state. General information for California is listed below.

  • Personal injury
    Two years from the date of the injury or two years from the date of discovery discovered. A minor has two years from his or her 18th birthday to file a case.
  • Oral contract
    Two years from the breach of contract date.
  • Written contract
    Four years from the breach of contract date.

Hiring a lawyer for small claims court

One of the benefits of small claims court is that you can bring your suit without legal representation. Because the claim and recovery will be small, you will not need a lawyer to help you, but you do need to make sure you understand the process and file your claim before the statute of limitations expires.

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