California statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits

The statute of limitations is a law that establishes how long you have to file a lawsuit.  Statutes of limitations are intended to prevent a plaintiff from waiting an unreasonable amount of time to file a lawsuit.  Generally speaking, the period of time permitted under a statute of limitations is proportional to the severity of the offense; the more severe the offense, the longer the statute of limitations.

All of the states have very specific statutes of limitations for filing personal injury cases, but in the case of medical malpractice, the statute of limitations are more complicated because most states have created a three- or four-part statute of limitations.

In the state of California, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits is covered under California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5 which states that a medical malpractice case must be brought “within one year after the plaintiff discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury,” or within three years of the date of your injury, whichever comes first. This is referred to as the “standard deadline”.

Simply put, in California, you must get your medical malpractice lawsuit filed in civil court within a year of discovering that you were harmed due to negligence on the part of a healthcare provider. If you don’t discover that your were harmed until after more than three years have gone by since the negligent act occurred, you will have lost the right to file the lawsuit.


There are exceptions to the statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits. In certain cases, the statute of limitations will “pause” in California for medical malpractice cases, including:

  • Where the healthcare provider’s fraudulent or concealing actions essentially hid the mistake
  • Where the case arose from the unintentional leaving of a foreign object in a patient

In these types of cases, the one-year discovery deadline is still applicable, but there’s no overall time limit. So, in other words, you can bring a medical malpractice claim years after the procedure occurred that resulted in harm to you as long as it’s filed within a year after you’ve discovered that it occurred.

The statute of limitations for a minor child must begin within three years from the date that the alleged malpractice occurred with the exception that lawsuits by or on the behalf of a child under the age of six must be filed within three years of when the malpractice occurred, or before the child’s eighth birthday, whichever provides a larger window to file.

In the event that you reside in California but are bringing suit against a U.S. federal agency, such as a VA hospital, your malpractice complaint falls under the Federal Tort Claim Act and must be filed within two years of discovery. Finally, if your injury took place at certain public entry hospital, then you must file within six months.

Take action today

Medical malpractice statutes of limitations are complicated.  If you feel that you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, it’s in your best interest to consult with a personal injury attorney who is experienced in handling these types of cases in the state of California. Medical malpractice examples include surgical and medication errors, delayed, misdiagnosis, or failure to diagnose, and anesthesia errors, to name a few.

Scott S. Harris, California medical malpractice attorney, has more than 30 years of experience in the area of medical malpractice. Contact our office to schedule your free initial consultation.