Is There a Statute of Limitations for an Injury Claim in Washington State?

By  //  December 18, 2020

If you’ve been involved in a car accident, slip-and-fall or any other accident where someone else’s negligence caused the incident, you probably should file a personal injury lawsuit in Washington’s civil courts.

It’s important that you comply with the state of limitations in Washington for a personal injury claim. There is a strictly-enforced time limit on your right to file a personal injury lawsuit in Washington.

Even though there are a few situations where the filing period may be extended, the deadline is still very important.

The Time Limit for Washington Personal Injury Lawsuits

According to the Revised Code of Washington section 4.16.080, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit in Washington is three years.

Whether the lawsuit is driven by intention tort or negligence tort, the same time limit applies. Negligence tort refers to most accidents, and intentional tort applies to civil assault and battery.

Whether your injury is due to another individual’s intentional act or negligent act, you’ve got three years to file a complaint and complete other paperwork from the date that the incident occurred.

What If the Filing Deadline is Missed?

If the three years statute of limitations has passed and you try to file a personal injury lawsuit, it’s likely the individual that you are trying to sue will file a motion to dismiss based on the fact that the deadline has passed. The court will summarily dismiss the case.

After that happens, you’ve lost the legal right to ask a court to award you any damages for your injuries. And it doesn’t matter how severe your injuries are. Nor does it matter whether or not it’s obvious that the defendant was negligent.

Washington’s personal injury statute of limitations is critical to taking your case to court with a formal lawsuit. Plus, it plays a big role in your ability to pursuing settlement negotiations with the defendant’s insurance company.

You lose your negotiating leverage. Saying “See you in court” becomes just an empty threat.

Exceptions to the Revised Code of Washington Section 4.16.080

There are a number of different situations that just may delay the running of the state of limitations clock or at least pause the clock once it starts running in Washington. Here are two scenarios that stop the clock.

If the individual who is allegedly responsible for your injures leaves the state of Washington after the accident or tries to conceal themselves within the state of Washington, the period of this absence or concealment won’t be used as part of the three-year filing deadline. Simply put, the clock won’t tick during this time.

If the injured party is under 18 year of age at the time of the incident or is disabled or incompetent and doesn’t understand the nature of the legal proceeding, the injured party then has the right to file a personal injury lawsuit once that reaches the age of 18, or when their competence is regained. This law is found in the Revised Code of Washington section 4.16.190.

Another situation where the statute of limitations may be revised is if the injury isn’t discovered until after it occurred. An example of this would be a person who had surgery and the physician left a surgical tool inside the patient.

This sometimes comes up in medical malpractice lawsuits. The patient may have had some issues but never realized that a surgical tool was left in them until five years later. In this case, the three-year statute of limitations wouldn’t apply. The discovery rule would apply.

If you’re unsure about how the Washington statute of limitation applies to your personal injury lawsuit, it’s best to discuss your situation with an experienced Tacoma personal injury lawyer.

After a personal injury accident, the victim is typically busy handling doctor visits, recovering from the injury and managing lost days from work. During that time, the statute of limitations is closing in. If it passed, your claim is denied and you’re left paying all of the accident out-of-pocket expenses.

Three years may sound like a lot of time to file a lawsuit for your damages, but you should never wait until the last minute. Keep in mind that it takes time to determine who’s at fault for the incident, it takes time to complete a thorough investigation, time to identify all of the defendants and time to serve notice on all before the statute expires.

The more time that passes, the tougher it is to gather evidence to support your claim. The court cannot typically extend the statute of limitations.

Even if the deadline is missed by just one day, it may be denied. It’s important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible after an accident. This way, you can ensure that your claim is filed in a timely manner.

In some cases, filing the claim early on will help ensure that there is enough money available for compensation.

If the defendant has multiple personal injury lawsuits, the money can get used up. An earlier claim is more likely to be awarded full damages than a claim that is filed later.