What is the Property Damage Statute of Limitations in Washington?

Make sure you comply with the filing deadline set by Washington's statute of limitations for property damage cases, or you could see your lawsuit dismissed.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If someone else's negligent or intentional action causes damage to your property in the state of Washington, you might have the right to file a property damage claim or lawsuit and try to get compensation for your losses. If you're in this situation, it's important to understand Washington's statute of limitations for these kinds of cases.

What Is a "Statute of Limitations"?

A "statute of limitations" is a law that puts a strictly-enforced limit on the amount of time that can pass between:

  • the occurrence of some kind of wrongdoing that causes you harm (physical, financial, or otherwise), and
  • the date on which you must file a lawsuit asking a court for a legal remedy for that wrongdoing.

Read on for the details of the property damage statute of limitations in Washington, rare circumstances that could serve to extend the deadline, and more.

What's the Property Damage Lawsuit Filing Deadline In Washington?

In Washington, the filing deadline that applies to a property damage lawsuit is the same whether the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) is seeking the repair or replacement of damaged or destroyed real property or personal property.

Specifically, Revised Code of Washington section 4.16.080 sets a three-year time limit for the filing of:

  • "an action for waste or trespass upon real property," and
  • "an action for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property."

Here, "waste" is just another word for "damage." So, if a homeowner wants to bring a lawsuit for physical damage to the exterior of a house caused by someone else's negligence, that case must be brought within three years in Washington. The same goes for a vehicle damage claim after a car accident.

In both situations, the statute of limitations "clock" usually starts ticking as soon as the property owner becomes aware (or should have become aware) that someone else caused damage to his or her property.

Learn more about how property damage claims work.

What If I Miss the Filing Deadline in Washington?

If the three-year filing deadline set by the Washington statute of limitations has passed, but you try to file your property damage lawsuit anyway, the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will almost certainly make a motion asking the court to dismiss the case. And, except in rare cases where an exemption from the deadline applies (more on these exceptions in the next section), the court will grant the dismissal. So, even if you're pretty sure your property damage case will reach a settlement, you still want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit if you need to.

Extending the Statute of Limitations Deadline in Washington

In a Washington property damage lawsuit—and most other kinds of civil lawsuits, for that matter—a number of situations could effectively extend the statute of limitations deadline.

Defendant's Absence or Concealment

If the defendant who is alleged to have caused the property damage is absent from the state of Washington or has taken steps to conceal themselves within the state before the lawsuit can be filed, the time of absence/concealment probably won't be counted as part of the statute of limitations period, according to Revised Code of Washington section 4.16.180.

Property Owner's "Legal Disability"

If the property owner is under the age of 18, is "incompetent or disabled to such a degree that he or she cannot understand the nature of the proceedings," they're considered under a "legal disability" in Washington. And Revised Code of Washington section 4.16.190 says that the property owner will be able to bring the lawsuit within the applicable time limit once the disability is removed (meaning the owner turns 18 or is declared legally competent).

Other circumstances may affect the Washington statute of limitations, and how it's calculated. If you've got questions about the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential property damage lawsuit, do a little research of your own or talk with an attorney in your area.

Where Do I File a Property Damage Lawsuit In Washington?

The answer here mostly depends on how much compensation ("damages" in the language of the law) you'll be seeking from the person you're suing:

  • If you'll be asking for $75,000 or less as compensation for your property damage, Washington District Court is probably the right place for your lawsuit.
  • If your damages look like they'll add up to more than $75,000, your property damage lawsuit will probably be filed in Washington Superior Court.

In either scenario, you'll likely file your lawsuit in the county where the person you're suing lives, or where the property damage occurred.

Can I File a Property Damage Case In Washington Small Claims Court?

Yes. If you're not asking for more than $5,000 from the person who damaged or destroyed your property, small claims court might be a good option for your case. Remember that the Washington statute of limitations deadline we've discussed here also applies to small claims cases.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Washington Property Damage Claim?

Even if you're filing a lawsuit, you don't necessarily need a lawyer to handle your property damage case. Paying for an attorney at this stage might not be worth it (especially if you're filing in small claims court), and it can be challenging to find an attorney who's willing to take a run-of-the-mill property damage case.

But a Washington lawyer's help might be crucial if personal injury or some other legal issue overlaps with your property damage. A lawyer might also agree to take that kind of "hybrid" case on a contingency fee basis, meaning you won't pay for the lawyer's services unless you receive a settlement or court award. Get tips on finding the right lawyer for you and your case.

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