Explaining the The Discovery Rule in California

Knowing the Discovery Rule May Be Important to Your Case 

For California personal injury cases, the discovery rule can defer the statute of limitations when an injured party didn’t discover their trauma right away. It allows those who were injured to have more time to file a lawsuit. Since most California personal injury claims have a two-year statute of limitations, which is the limit of the amount of time an injured party can file a lawsuit, the discovery rule can extend this time and can be important.

In What Types of Cases Does the Discovery Rule Apply?

Any personal injury that was caused by another person’s or entity’s negligence would be potentially subject to the discovery rule such as:

  • Traffic collisions
  • Construction accidents
  • Farm accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Products liability
  • Wrongful death

The Injured Party Has to Provide Proof

The injured party (plaintiff) has to prove they didn’t know they had suffered an injury until later, so the statute of limitations can be shifted to allow them to file a lawsuit. Proof can be provided in one of two ways. The injured party can show they didn’t know they had been harmed because of someone else’s negligent behavior. The second way is that the injured person did not know and it could not reasonably be discovered that the injury occurred, and this unknown harm caused their condition.

Example of a Wrongful Death and the Discovery Rule

As an example, let’s say a surgeon left an object such as a sponge inside a patient when they operated. The patient, instead of healing, became worse, suffering pain, bloating and other symptoms. Eventually, the patient died of sepsis caused by the sponge, which was only discovered when the body was autopsied. The family, in that case, would be allowed to ask for an extension of the statute of limitations to file a wrongful death claim because they would have no way of knowing what had worsened their loved one’s condition and eventually caused their demise.

Delayed Symptoms in a Traffic Accident and the Discovery Rule

As an additional example, an older person was involved in a car accident. They went to an emergency room, were checked out and nothing amiss showed up. Later, they began to have severe headaches and nausea, stumbled and had memory problems. After being taken back to the hospital and having a CAT scan run, it was discovered they had suffered a subdural hematoma. 

Due to their age, this type of serious injury can be slow in developing. The trauma was determined to be due to the initial accident, and the patient ended up with residual damage that affected their quality of life. Because further treatment for an undetermined period was required and the patient had not placed a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company, their accident attorney asked that the statute of limitations be extended.

Compassion in the Law

The discovery rule was instituted to compensate those who suffered injuries and hold the negligent persons or entities who caused them harm responsible for their actions. Without it, the statute of limitations could expire, and the injured parties or grieving families would have no legal recourse because the courts would dismiss their cases. 

Personal Injury Attorney in Roseville

I’m Ed Smith, a personal injury attorney in Roseville. When an injury caused by an accident is discovered later, it may be possible to extend the statute of limitations. While the injured person can still negotiate a settlement with the at-fault party’s insurance company, having the ability to file a lawsuit if it is unsuccessful is important. If you need help with your case, call us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400. You can also reach us online

Photo attribution: Image by Sang Hyun Cho from Pixabay 

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