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California Supreme Court weighs in on a minor’s statute of limitations: Shalabi v. Fontana

July 21, 2021 Blog,Personal injury

By Eric Ganci

Time matters. And in the Law, certain time frames apply when an injury occurs to when a lawsuit must be filed. If you fall outside that “statute of limitations,” the Court may time-bar your claim which may leave you with no justice because you missed the deadline to file.

California has many rules to which statute of limitations apply to certain types of cases. In addition, if the Plaintiff is a minor when the injury/damage first occurred, California allows the statute of limitations to “toll” until the minor Plaintiff turns 18 per California Code of Civil Procedure section 352—to then file a claim

With that, we get back to how time matters. For example, many personal injury cases have a 2-year statute of limitations, which run from the accrual of the cause of action per California Code of Civil Procedure sections 335.1, 340(c). Although other time frames apply, like the 6-month statute to file a government claim against a public entity per California Government Code section 911.2.

But this may raise questions to how we count the first day and the last day. And the California Supreme Court decided this issue on July 12, 2021 with Shalabi v. Fontana (2021 WL 2908526) as it relates to a statute when a minor turns 18. Specifically, the issue was “in cases in which the statute of limitations is tolled based on the plaintiff minor’s age, the day after which the tolling period ends is either included or excluded in calculating whether an action is timely filed within the limitations period.”

The case sadly involved a police officer wrongfully shooting and killing Plaintiff’s father. Plaintiff was a minor when the tragedy happened. Here the statute timeline was: “(1) plaintiff’s date of birth is December 3, 1993; (2) plaintiff reached the age of majority on December 3, 2011; and (3) plaintiff filed his original complaint on December 3, 2013.” Yikes. Cutting it close to the deadline, and Defendant argued Plaintiff was time-barred from filing the claim—arguing they missed their deadline to file the case.

First, the general law regarding whether we count first days and last days when calculating statute of limitations: “The time in which any act provided by law is to be done is computed by excluding the first day, and including the last, unless the last day is a holiday, and then it is also excluded.” This is from California Code of Civil Procedure section 12. From Shalabi, this is a neat piece of history: “This general statutory rule was first codified in 1850 as section 307 of the Original Practice Act3 and has remained unchanged since its enactment in 1872.”

So here, do we include Plaintiff’s actual 18th birthday to calculate the statute of limitations? No. “[A]n individual’s 18th birthday is excluded when calculating the applicable limitations period.” And then per CCP 12, we include the last day.

So specifically, here in Shalabi, Plaintiff’s claim was filed timely and not time-barred.