If you've had your property damaged or destroyed by someone else's wrongful actions in Washington, you could be thinking about filing a lawsuit over what happened. If so, it’s important to understand the Washington statute of limitations that applies to your potential lawsuit, whether your potential case involves real property (your house or your land) or personal property.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a "statute of limitations" is just a state law that affects your right to file a lawsuit over any kind of legal dispute or harm suffered, by putting a limit on how much time can pass before you file the case. Every state has passed these laws, and the time limits vary depending on the subject matter of the lawsuit.
Read on for the details of the property damage statute of limitations in Washington, the consequences of missing the deadline, and rare circumstances that could alter (and extend) the deadline.
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:
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.
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 settle, you still want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit if you need to.
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.
First, 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 him/herself 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.
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," he or she will be 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 -- especially if the filing deadline is fast approaching -- an experienced Washington attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.