Medical malpractice cases can be legally complicated and emotionally challenging. When medical professionals fail to meet the standard of care, it can result in serious harm to patients. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries due to medical negligence in California, you should understand the statute of limitations governing these cases and consult with a proven medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.

What Constitutes Medical Malpractice in California?

As per the Code of Civil Procedure and the California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI), medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional or facility deviates from the reasonable standard of care, resulting in harm to a patient’s body. This harm may occur because of misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, surgical errors, medication mistakes, leaving a foreign body or medical instrument inside the body, or negligence in providing treatment or appropriate care instructions to the patient.  Photo of A Person Consulting With Attorney

Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice

California law requires medical malpractice lawsuits to be filed within three years from the date the alleged malpractice occurred. If you fail to file your claim within this time limit, you may be ineligible to claim any damages thereafter. However, there are exceptions to consider:

Discovery Rule

If the medical malpractice was not immediately apparent and could not reasonably have been discovered earlier, the three-year clock begins ticking from the date of discovery or when the malpractice should have been reasonably discovered. However, there is a one-year discovery deadline. This can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case. It is important to note that the statute of limitations clock does not start running until the patient discovers or should have reasonably discovered the injury.

Exception for Fraudulent Concealment

If the healthcare provider or defendant intentionally hid information or committed fraud regarding the malpractice, the statute of limitations may be extended.

Statute of Repose

California’s medical malpractice statute of repose is governed by the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.5. It states: “Except as provided in this section, in no event shall the time for the commencement of legal action exceed three years after the date of injury or one year after the plaintiff discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury, whichever occurs first.” This means that if the plaintiff discovers medical malpractice in the form of a foreign object (like, a surgical sponge) even after 10 years, they may still be able to file a claim. Although, the malpractice should not have been discoverable through reasonable diligence because of intentional concealment or something else.

Consequences of Missing the Statute of Limitations Deadline

If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, several key consequences may occur:

  • Loss of the Right to Sue: The most immediate consequence is that you will likely lose your right to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit. The court is likely to dismiss your case if it is filed after the statute of limitations expires.
  • Defendant’s Defense: The healthcare provider or institution being accused of malpractice will likely raise the statute of limitations as a defense in court. If the court finds that the deadline has expired, it may dismiss your case.
  • Inability to Pursue Compensation: You will be unable to pursue compensation for your injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages related to California medical malpractice.
  • Emotional and Financial Stress: Missing the statute of limitations can result in additional emotional distress and financial hardship, as you may have incurred substantial medical expenses and other costs related to the malpractice.

You should consult with a dedicated medical negligence attorney if you want to file a lawsuit before the California medical malpractice statute of limitations runs out.

Rules Involving Minors and Incapacitated Individuals


For cases involving minor children (individuals under the age of 18), California has specific rules regarding the statute of limitations. Generally, the standard statute of limitations for medical malpractice still applies, which is three years from the date of the alleged malpractice or one year from the date of discovery, whichever comes first. However, there is an important exception for minors under California medical malpractice statutes. The statute of limitations is tolled (paused) until the minor reaches the age of 18. In other words, the clock doesn’t start ticking until the minor turns 18. From that point, they have up to three years to file a medical malpractice claim, but they must do so before their 20th birthday.

Incapacitated Individuals

In case of incapacitated individuals who are unable to pursue their own claims due to mental or physical concerns, the statute of limitations as per the California Code of Civil Procedure gets extended. The statute is typically tolled during the period of the individual’s incapacity. Once the incapacitated individual regains capacity or a legal guardian is appointed to represent their interests, the statute of limitations may begin to run from that point.

Do You Need Help for Pursuing a Medical Malpractice Claim?

If you believe you have been a victim of medical malpractice and are considering pursuing a claim, you should reach out to an experienced medical malpractice attorney who specializes in handling such cases. Medical malpractice claims can be challenging, and healthcare providers and their insurance companies often find legal basis to vigorously defend against such claims. Your attorney can evaluate your case, determine its merits, and advise you on the best course of action. Your attorney will collect all relevant medical records, treatment histories, and any other documents related to your medical care. They will also ensure that any physical evidence, such as medical devices or products, is preserved as it may be vital to your case. In many of these cases, expert testimony is necessary to establish the standard of care and prove negligence. A resourceful personal injury attorney can utilize their network to hire the services of qualified medical specialists for expert testimony and prepare a solid medical malpractice case for the civil court within the time limit. Photo of Judges Gavel

Discuss a Winning Legal Strategy with our Medical Malpractice Attorneys to Maximize Damages

If you or a loved one believe to have been a victim of medical malpractice, the dedicated and experienced California medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Brown & Gessell are here to fight for your rights and help you pursue the compensation you are entitled to. Our attorneys have a proven track record of success in handling some of the most complex medical malpractice cases. To schedule your initial consultation at no cost, call us at (209) 583-3938 or fill out this online contact form.