Delayed Discovery Rule Law & Legal Definition


The delayed discovery rule is a legal doctrine that suspends the running of statutes of limitations during periods of time in which the plaintiff did not discover, or by the exercise of reasonable diligence, could not have discovered, the injuries that would lead to his/her causes of action against the defendant/perpetrator.

The rule as applied to sexual abuse cases, tolls the accrual of the cause of action until after the victim discovers the nexus between her injuries and the sexual abuse.

The following is an example of a case law on the term:

Ordinarily, a cause of action accrues upon the occurrence of the last element essential to the cause of action. (April Enterprises, Inc. v. KTTV (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 805, 826.) However, in cases where it would be manifestly unjust to deprive a plaintiff of a cause of action before he is aware he has been injured, the delayed discovery rule applies. This means the statute of limitations begins to run not upon injury, but when the plaintiff either actually discovers his injury, or could have discovered his injury through the exercise of reasonable diligence. [Smith v. Dunham, 2008 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 2823 (California Unpublished Opinions 2008)].

The delayed discovery rule originated as a means of preserving negligence claims from the strict application of the statute of limitations, which might otherwise be deemed to have run even before the plaintiff knew that s/he had a claim. [Zwicker v. Altamont Emergency Room Physicians Medical Group, 98 Cal. App. 4th 26, 35 (Cal. Ct. App. 2002)].