Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in California Years Later?

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Often, injury victims find out that their once valid claims for compensation are now invalid because they waited too long to take action. Time limits exist for most legal actions in California due to the effects that time can have on the pursuit of justice and compensation. 

What if you are the victim of medical malpractice? How far down the road from your accident or injury are you allowed to sue a negligent healthcare provider, such as a doctor, nurse, or technician? The answer to that question, like many other questions in the legal world, is that it depends.

California’s Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

A “statute of limitations” is a time limit detailing how long you have to take legal action for a particular claim. For medical malpractice cases in California, the statute of limitations is three years from the date the injury was caused or one year from when the victim discovered or should have discovered the injury, whichever occurs first. 

For example, if the healthcare provider commits medical malpractice and you become aware of the error and resulting injury almost immediately, you have one year to file suit. However, let’s say you become aware of the malpractice two-and-a-half years after it occurred. In this case, you would only have half a year to institute legal action. 

One reason why California’s medical malpractice statute of limitations is so short is to prevent a chilling effect in the healthcare industry. Without the statute of limitations, healthcare providers would face liability for injuries that happened years or decades ago, which would likely lead to an exodus of professionals from the industry.

Exceptions to California’s Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

As you might imagine, there are a few exceptions to California’s medical malpractice. These exceptions are strict, meaning most medical malpractice cases do not qualify for an exception to the statute of limitations and become invalid once the time limit expires. 

Foreign Object

If a surgeon leaves a foreign object inside you, the statute of limitations is suspended until you discover the object’s existence. From then, you will have one year to take legal action, even if more than three years have passed.

Minors Under Six

If the victim of the malpractice was under six years old, then the statute of limitations may be tolled or extended until the victim reaches their eighth birthday. So, if a four-year-old child is injured by a doctor’s negligence, they have until their eighth birthday to file suit instead of an overall time limit of three years.


In some cases, fraud may have the effect of tolling the statute of limitations. For example, if a healthcare provider prevents you from finding out about medical malpractice, it would certainly be unjust to allow them to benefit from the lapsing of the statute of limitations. For this reason, fraud can put the statute of limitations on hold, allowing the victim to pursue justice.

Suing for Medical Malpractice Years Later

If your case of negligence is over three years old, you will need to qualify for an exception to the statute of limitations in order to sue for medical malpractice, regardless of when you discovered the injury. You will also need to hire an experienced medical malpractice attorney to handle your case and defend against the defendant’s attempts to get your claim thrown out of court as a result of being untimely. 

The statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases may seem simple on paper. However, these deadlines often result in complex battles that require injury victims to have seasoned counsel to prevail. 

Once your attorney establishes a strong exception for your case to stand on, their job will then be to prove that a healthcare provider was negligent in treating you and that this negligence led to your injuries. Because it may be years after your accident, establishing liability could be difficult to prove due to the availability (or lack thereof) of important evidence and other considerations.  

Because of these difficulties, medical malpractice victims and injury victims, in general, should always take swift legal action when they suffer an injury. Every day, valuable injury claims for compensation, including medical malpractice claims, go from valid to non-actionable due to the statute of limitations, lack of evidence, and other issues. 

Contact a California Medical Malpractice Lawyer for Help

At the Trial Law Office of Bradley I. Kramer, M.D., Esq., you will receive top-quality representation from a seasoned medical malpractice lawyer who is also a medical doctor. Don’t wait a day longer and risk losing out on valuable compensation. Call our office today for a free, discreet consultation

Questions? Contact us