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What Is The Timeline To File A Lawsuit In Washington?

Colburn Law

The Timeline To File A Lawsuit In Washington

If you plan on filing a lawsuit in Washington state, it is important to understand the statute of limitations. This legal timeframe dictates how long you have to initiate a lawsuit after an incident has occurred.

By limiting the time for filing a claim, the statute of limitations helps preserve the integrity of evidence, including witness memories and physical artifacts, which might degrade over time.

If the deadline to file a lawsuit is missed, the consequences can be severe and often final. Depending on the situation surrounding your case, you may lose your right to file a claim and secure compensation for the injuries that you have suffered. Here is what you need to know about Washington’s statute of limitations for personal injury cases.

Washington’s Personal Injury Statute of Limitations Is Three Years

The statute of limitations for most personal injury claims is outlined under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) §4.16.080. Under this law, victims of personal injuries have three years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit in court. This timeframe applies to a variety of personal injury cases, including car accidents, premises liability cases, dog bites, and wrongful death claims.

RCW §4.16.080. Actions limited to three years.

The following actions shall be commenced within three years:

(2) An action for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property, including an action for the specific recovery thereof, or for any other injury to the person or rights of another not hereinafter enumerated.

Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations in Washington

Washington has a separate law for lawsuits involving medical malpractice. According to this statute, you have the right to file a lawsuit against a healthcare provider either three years from the date of the malpractice or one year from the date the injury was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered, whichever comes later.

This law accounts for the sometimes-hidden nature of medical malpractice injuries. You may not become aware of the implications of a misdiagnosis or a surgical error until years after the initial event. Therefore, you have a fairer opportunity to seek justice once an injury is or could reasonably be uncovered.

RCW §4.16.350. Action for injuries resulting from health care or related services—Physicians, dentists, nurses, etc.—Hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, etc.

(3) An entity, whether or not incorporated, facility, or institution employing one or more persons described in subsection (1) of this section, including, but not limited to, a hospital, clinic, health maintenance organization, or nursing home; or an officer, director, employee, or agent thereof acting in the course and scope of his or her employment, including, in the event such officer, director, employee, or agent is deceased, his or her estate or personal representative; based upon alleged professional negligence shall be commenced within three years of the act or omission alleged to have caused the injury or condition, or one year of the time the patient or his or her representative discovered or reasonably should have discovered that the injury or condition was caused by said act or omission, whichever period expires later.

Product Liability Statute of Limitations in Washington

For injuries caused by defective or dangerous products, you also have three years to initiate legal action. This period begins not necessarily when the injury occurs, but rather when the injury and its cause are, or should have been, discovered. However, state law also establishes a second deadline, called the statute of repose, which places an outer limit of 12 years from the first use of the product to discover and file a claim. 

RCW §7.72.060. Length of time product sellers are subject to liability.

(2) Presumption regarding useful safe life. If the harm was caused more than twelve years after the time of delivery, a presumption arises that the harm was caused after the useful safe life had expired. This presumption may only be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence.

(3) Statute of limitation. Subject to the applicable provisions of chapter 4.16 RCW pertaining to the tolling and extension of any statute of limitation, no claim under this chapter may be brought more than three years from the time the claimant discovered or in the exercise of due diligence should have discovered the harm and its cause.

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations Rules

If more than three years have passed since your accident, you may wonder whether you are still eligible to file a claim. Washington has also established certain exceptions to the statute of limitations, which can lengthen your filing window. However, these exceptions can be rare and do not apply to every case.

The Defendant Leaves Washington

The statute of limitations can be paused if the defendant has left the state, does not live in Washington, or has gone into hiding within the state. This ensures that defendants cannot simply evade legal responsibility by leaving the state or concealing their location. If this situation applies to your case, the defendant’s period of absence will not be counted as part of the statute of limitations.

The Plaintiff Does Not Discover the Injury Until Later

In some cases, the discovery rule allows the statute of limitations to begin at the point the injury is discovered or should have reasonably been discovered, rather than from the moment the injury occurred. This rule is relevant in cases where the injuries are not immediately obvious, such as medical malpractice or product liability situations.

The Plaintiff Is a Minor or Legally Disabled

The statute of limitations is also tolled for plaintiffs who are minors or legally disabled. In Washington, this legal suspension remains in effect until the minor reaches the age of 18 or until the disability that impairs the plaintiff’s ability to initiate legal action is resolved. This tolling also applies to people who were imprisoned before they could file a lawsuit.

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Colburn Law Can Help You Today

If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence, time is of the essence. The statute of limitations often sets a strict timeline for filing your claim, and missing this deadline can forfeit your right to seek damages. In these situations, a Seattle injury attorney from Colburn Law can help evaluate your case and identify the relevant statute of limitations for your claim.

Our Washington personal injury lawyer is well-versed in the state’s complex filing deadline rules and can take the necessary steps to file your claim before the timeframe expires. Contact us today at (206)-880-7628 and initiate your journey to financial compensation.