Are there Ways Around the Statute of Limitations in California?
Yes. Plaintiffs should be aware of several points of law to potentially circumvent the statute of limitations defense:
- Verify when the Statute of Limitations Ran (and if it actually did). First, realize the statute of limitations doesn’t start to run until all elements of a claim occur. And, the statute of limitations periods do not begin to run until a plaintiff becomes aware of the occurrence of all elements (this is called “the discovery rule”). Often times, defendants make frivolous arguments on demurrer and motions for summary judgment insinuating the breach of contract statute of limitations began on the date the contract was signed. This is not California law. A cause of action accrues for statute of limitations purposes when liability arises and the plaintiff is aware. So, in a contract lawsuit, the clock starts ticking when the plaintiff is aware of breach and damages. In a fraud lawsuit, it starts when the plaintiff is aware the defendant’s misrepresentation caused damages.
- Acknowledgements, Payments, and Promises Restart the Time. If the plaintiff actually misses the statute of limitations, all is not lost. In a breach of contract lawsuit, the limitations period starts again if the defendant acknowledges the debt in writing, makes a payment, and/or makes an express or implied promise to pay the debt. Further, if a contract calls for installment payments, the statute of limitations runs from each monthly or other installment payment. So, while you may have missed the statute of limitations regarding some payments, you may still have time on other payments.
- Continuing Wrongs. A plaintiff can still recover for the actions that took place outside the statute of limitations if the conduct is “sufficiently linked” to the conduct within the limitations period. Similarly, a plaintiff can still recover where the wrong is continual or recurring.
When a defendant raises the statute of limitations defense, whether on demurrer, motion for summary judgment, or at trial, the plaintiff must properly oppose the defense — both procedurally and substantively.