| January 30, 2024

Washington State Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

After getting hurt in an accident in Washington State due to another party's carelessness or wrongdoing, you may have the right to seek compensation for your injuries and losses in a personal injury claim. However, you do not have complete discretion to file your personal injury claim whenever you want.

Instead, the law requires you to pursue your claims within a specific timeframe after sustaining your injuries. This deadline, known as the statute of limitations, ensures you pursue your legal claims before they become stale.

In Washington, the statute of limitations usually requires you to file a personal injury lawsuit within three years of suffering injuries due to the acts or omissions of others. However, other circumstances can change how long you have to file your legal claims. A personal injury attorney can help you determine the deadlines that apply to your personal injury case and assist you with filing your claims and lawsuits on time. 

Washington’s Personal Injury Laws

In Washington State, personal injury laws hold parties liable when their negligence or legal fault causes other persons' injuries. Negligence occurs when a party breaches or fails to act under an applicable duty of care that they owe to others, such as a driver's duty to operate their vehicle lawfully and safely. A party may also act with gross negligence, which results from the failure to act even with a slight degree of care.

Washington law imposes strict liability on parties for another person's injuries in certain circumstances. For example, product liability law holds a manufacturer strictly liable for a consumer's injury when that person gets injured by a product made by the manufacturer that either:

  • Deviated from the design specifications or
  • Failed to conform to the manufacturer's express warranties or any implied warranties

The law also holds a dog owner strictly liable when their pet bites and injures someone.

Under Washington’s personal injury law, a person may have the right to recover compensation for financial and personal losses arising from the harm they suffered in an accident. That compensation could include:

  • Medical treatment and rehabilitation expenses
  • Costs of long-term disability care or support services
  • Lost wages/income and job benefits due to temporary or permanent disability from full-time employment and other work
  • Physical pain and anguish
  • Emotional trauma or distress
  • Reduced quality of life due to physical disabilities or permanent, visible scarring and disfigurement 

Understanding the Statute of Limitations

Unfortunately, accident victims have limited time to pursue compensation claims. State law imposes a deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit, known as the statute of limitations. Statutes of limitations serve several important purposes, including:

  • Ensuring prompt filing of claims: Requiring injured accident victims to file their lawsuits within a certain period after an accident ensures that personal injury claims get resolved before evidence gets destroyed or lost or witnesses’ memories fade over time. After enough time passes, the parties may lose evidence critical to their cases, making it challenging to determine the injured party’s right to compensation or the defendant’s liability.
  • Providing finality to potential defendants: Once the statute of limitations expires on a claim, a potential defendant can rest assured that they will not have any liability under that claim. This finality can allow potential defendants to make financial or personal decisions without the fear of potentially owing money in a personal injury lawsuit.

Courts strictly enforce statutes of limitations. Absent the applicability of a legal exception to the statute of limitations, the court can dismiss any lawsuit filed after the limitations period expires if the defendant in the case files a motion to dismiss. 

How Long Do You Have to File a Claim Under Washington’s Personal Injury Statute of Limitations?

In Washington State, the statute of limitations typically allows you to file your personal injury lawsuit within three years after getting hurt in an accident. In most cases, an injured victim who files a lawsuit more than three years after an accident risks giving the trial court a basis to dismiss the claim permanently. After the limitations period expires on your personal injury claim, you will lose the right to go to court to demand financial recovery from those parties liable for your injuries and losses. 

Other Deadlines on Personal Injury Claims 

You must follow different filing requirements when you have a personal injury claim against the government. Under Washington State law, a person who has an injury claim against the state government or a local government must submit written notice of their claim to the appropriate government agency within the limitations period. The government then has 60 days to evaluate the claim and decide whether to accept or deny liability.

For personal injury claims against the federal government, the Federal Tort Claims Act requires an injured party to file a written notice of claim with the relevant agency within two years of an accident caused by a federal employee’s negligence, even though Washington’s statute of limitations gives three years to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Finally, a manufacturer can avoid liability in product liability claims by showing that a consumer's injury occurred after the expiration of the at-fault product's "useful safe life." The law defines “useful safe life” as the time, beginning with a product’s delivery to the first end-user, the product would continue to perform safely. The law further imposes a rebuttable presumption that a product has a useful safe life of 12 years. 

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

The law recognizes certain exceptions that can pause or “toll” the statute of limitations. Some of the most frequent exceptions to the regular limitations period for personal injury claims include:

  • Injured child: When a child gets hurt due to the fault of another party, the statute of limitations does not begin running on the child’s personal injury claim until they turn 18 years old and gain the legal capacity as an adult to file a lawsuit.
  • Incapacity: The law tolls the statute of limitations during any period in which an injured party lacks the physical or mental capacity to file and prosecute a personal injury claim, such as when an injured party falls into a coma and does not have a guardian or another legal representative authorized to pursue the claim.
  • Defendant's absence from Washington: Courts may toll the statute of limitations when the defendant leaves Washington State.
  • Healthcare provider’s fraudulent concealment/misrepresentation: In medical malpractice cases, courts will toll or extend the limitations period in cases where a healthcare provider intentionally conceals or misrepresents facts that would alert a patient to the fact that they’ve suffered injuries or medical complications due to their provider’s negligent treatment.

One of the most frequently invoked exceptions to the traditional limitations period includes the discovery rule. This rule states that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until:

  • An injured party discovers their injuries and the facts underlying their personal injury claim (such as the fact that the injury occurred due to another party’s fault or the at-fault party’s identity) or
  • The date when the injured party should have discovered their personal injury claim through the exercise of reasonable diligence and inquiry.

For example, when a patient's surgeon leaves equipment inside the patient, the statute of limitations on their medical malpractice claim begins running when they discover the equipment or on the date they should have discovered it (such as when the patient begins experiencing pain or other symptoms). 

Consequences of Missing the Statute of Limitations and Other Deadlines

Failing to file a timely personal injury claim or follow filing requirements can jeopardize your right to recover compensation for your harm and loss.

For example, suppose you fail to submit written notice of your personal injury claim against the government to the appropriate government agency before the expiration of the relevant deadline. In that case, the government can deny a subsequently submitted claim or file a motion to dismiss any lawsuit you file against the government.

Similarly, if you file a personal injury lawsuit against a private party after the limitations period expires, the defendant can move to dismiss your case as untimely filed. If the trial court grants the motion, you will lose your right to demand compensation from the defendant.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer Today

When you've suffered injuries because of another party's negligence or legal fault, you might have the right to recover money for your harm and loss in a personal injury claim. The filing deadline for personal injury claims requires you to begin preparing your case as soon as possible after an accident.

You may have three years or less to file your case. Filing a lawsuit after the relevant deadlines expire may result in losing the opportunity to recover money through the court system from those liable for your injuries and losses.

Contact Freeman Law Firm, Inc., today for a free, no-obligation consultation. You can discuss the deadline for your personal injury claim with one of our attorneys and get help preparing your case so you can file your lawsuit on time.

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