Litigation Time Limits

The litigation process is not known for  simplicity, speed, and/or ease-of-use, which is why many people avoid it as much as possible. Still, some issues need to be resolved in a court of law. Part of the effort to speed up the process has become time limits.

Every kind of case will begin with a statute of limitations, or a time limit for filing a case with the court. Once litigation has begun, there are four general stages, and each come with their own set of time limits in order to ensure timeliness in the process and justice in the results.

Statute of Limitations

One of the first hurdles that any litigation attempt must clear is the statute of limitations, or the deadline by which the case needs to be filed with the court. These time limits exist to compel all parties to act quickly, avoiding the confusion and loss of evidence that comes with the passage of time.

Knowing these time limits helps you in many ways. You will know when you need to take action, and when you can dismiss accusations without merit. If the statute of limitations on a claim has run out, the claim will most likely be invalid. Here are the statute of limitations laws that impact seven common types of claims:


Type of Claim Statute of Limitations Comments
Breach of Contract, Verbal 2 years from the date the contract was broken Verbal contracts typically have some type of written evidence, such as emails or receipts.
Breach of Contract, Written 4 years from the date the contract was broken
Wage & Hour Violations 3 years from the date the wages were earned Applies to unpaid overtime and minimum wage. For breach of contract wage claims, see above.
Discrimination, Retaliation, Harassment—Under Title VII, ADEA, and ADA 90 days after the EEOC issues a Right to Sue notice A claim must first be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Discrimination, Retaliation, Harassment—Under CA Fair Employment and Housing Act 1 year after the DFEH issues a Right to Sue notice A claim must first be filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
Workers’ Compensation 1 year from the date of injury or last benefit paid
FMLA Violations 2 years from the date of the violation, or 3 years from the date of a willful violation There is no one, specific action that demonstrates a willful violation, but it typically involves an employer deliberately avoiding understanding, communicating, or complying with the terms of FMLA.
Medical Malpractice 1 year from the date the patient knows about the injury, or 3 years from the date injury should have been discovered The patient must also give 90 days of notice of intent to sue, and there is a time limit of five years from the date the suit was filed to bring the case to trial.

Note: Tolling and Time Limits

Tolling occurs when the statute of limitations is legally suspended, and therefore no clock is ticking. Tolling can occur if:

  • One or both parties is unable to participate in litigation.
  • The plaintiff is a minor or in prison.
  • The defendant is out of state or in bankruptcy.

Tolling can also occur while both parties are participating in resolving the dispute in good faith.

Time Limits During the Litigation Process

Each stage of the litigation process also has a time limit. A valid lawsuit can collapse if various required actions are not completed in a timely manner. The process is complex, so having experienced counsel to guide you is essential, whether you are the prosecutor or the defendant.

Stage 1: Service of Process

Service of process is the regulated procedure by which all parties involved in a lawsuit, as well as the court, must be notified of its filing. Following this process allows everyone the opportunity to respond in time. Here are the timelines you need to know to ensure that it is done correctly:

Service of Process Action Deadline
Serve defendant after complaint is filed 60 days
Serve defendant added via amended complaint 30 days after adding
Provide proof of service of summons and complaint 60 days after serving complaint
Defendant files answer or demurrer 30 days after the complaint was served

Stage 2: Discovery

Discovery is the required, organized disclosure of relevant documents and other information between the parties in a lawsuit.

Discovery Action Deadline Comments
Plaintiff may serve discovery questions to another party 10 days after service of complaint
Defendant serves discovery N/A
Plaintiff may serve deposition notice 20 days after service of the complaint
Subpoena for personal medical records 20 days before date of production The subpoena may not be served on records custodian until at least five days after service on consumer.
Subpoena for employment records 20 days before date for production, 5 days before service on the employer or custodian of records Must be served on records custodian or employer 15 days before date of production.
Discovery closes 15 days before arbitration
30 days before trial
Defendant may serve deposition notice N/A Plaintiff must wait 20 days after service of Summons and Complaint to serve.
Deposition scheduling 10 days in the future
15 days in the future if the notice is mailed

Stage 3: Expert Discovery

Litigation often depends on the testimony or deposition of expert witnesses. This process is also regulated by time limits.

Expert Discovery Action Deadline Comments
Experts demanded 70 days before trial, or
within 10 days of setting trial date
Whichever is closer to the trial date
Experts disclosed 50 days before trial, or
20 days after service of demand
Whichever is closer to the trial date
Supplemental expert disclosure 20 days after Exchange of Expert Witnesses May only disclose witness to cover a subject also covered by opponent’s witness(es)
Expert depositions On receipt of an expert witness list from a party
Expert discovery cutoff 15 days before original trial date
Last day for motions regarding experts 10 days before original trial date

Stage 4: Arbitration or Trial

Deadlines and time limits at this stage ensure an organized arbitration process or trial.

Arbitration or Trial Action Deadline Comments
Arbitrator issues award 10 days after conclusion of arbitration, or
20 days on application from the arbitrator for more time
Rejection of arbitration award 60 days after the service of an arbitration award
Discovery closes before arbitration 15 days before arbitration begins
Discovery closes before trial 30 days before trial or after non-binding arbitration With the exclusion of expert lists or expert depositions
Trial experts demanded 70 days before trial, or within 10 days of setting trial date Whichever is closer to the trial date
Trial experts disclosed 50 days before trial, or
20 days after service of demand
Whichever is closer to the trial date
Compromise offers 10 days prior to trial 998 offers can be made.
Notice to appear, No documents 10 days before trial
Notice to appear, With documents 20 days before trial
Objection to notice to appear, With documents Within 5 days Or any other time period as the court may allow

Is Time On Your Side?

Keep in mind that the length of the statute of limitations on various types of litigation can be impacted by a number of factors, such as tolling and willful violations. If a case goes to trial or arbitration, there are many more time limits that must be respected by both the prosecution and the defense.

Simas & Associates, Ltd. has the experience necessary to protect you from misunderstanding the many litigation time limits in Administrative and Government Law, Healthcare Law, Professional License Defense, and Employer Defense. The guidance offered by expert counsel to navigate the many time limits in the litigation process can stop frivolous lawsuit attempts, and ensure a successful outcome for your unique situation.