What is the statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Washington?

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Question:

What is the statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Washington?

Answer:

Anyone who wants to to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Washington first needs to be aware of the “statute of limitations.” This is a state law that sets a strict limit on the amount of time you have to get a lawsuit started in the civil court system. There are different deadlines, depending on the kind of case you want to file.

Like a lot of states, Washington has enacted a specific statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits. You can find this law at Revised Code of Washington section 4.16.350, and it says that this kind of case must be filed within three years of the date on which the underlying malpractice was allegedly committed -- or alternatively, within one year of the date when the patient discovered (or should have been able to discover) that he or she was injured as a result of malpractice.

It’s important to note that if you are arguing that you did not discover right away that you were harmed by the defendant’s medical error, as the plaintiff you have the burden of proving that you did not know -- and you could not reasonably have been expected to know -- about the wrongdoing until you actually did.

There is also a larger catch-all filing deadline (known as a “statute of repose”) in Washington, which says that all medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed within eight years from the date on which the malpractice occurred.  So, once those eight years have passed, even if you didn’t know (and couldn’t have known) that you were harmed by malpractice during all of that time, your right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Washington is lost.

Finally, there are a few situations that will “toll” the statute of limitations in Washington -- keep the “clock” from running, in other words. If the injury was caused by a foreign object left inside the patient, or if the malpractice was intentionally concealed by fraud, the patient has one year from the date of actual knowledge of the injury to get the case filed.    

By now you’re probably wondering what happens if Washington’s statute of limitations filing deadline has passed and you try to file your medical malpractice lawsuit anyway. In that situation, the defendant will almost certainly ask the court to dismiss the case, and the court will grant the motion. Once that happens, that’s the end of your lawsuit. Get more details on the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases.

by: David Goguen, J.D.

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