What is the Car Accident Statute of Limitations in Washington State?

Question

What is the Car Accident Statute of Limitations in Washington State?

Answer

First, some background: a “statute of limitations” is a state law that limits the amount of time a prospective plaintiff has to file a lawsuit in the state’s court system, after suffering some type of harm or loss -- such as an injury or property damage after a vehicle accident. There are different deadlines depending on the type of case that is being filed, but the deadline is usually expressed in terms of years.

The statute of limitations for most Washington car accident lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to the majority of standard personal injury lawsuits filed in the state. Specifically, Revised Code of Washington section 4.16.080 says that an action for “injury to the person or rights of another… shall be commenced within three years.” That includes any injury claim brought by a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or bicyclist after a traffic accident.

Section 4.16.080 also sets a three-year deadline for the filing of “an action for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property,” if you only want to file a lawsuit over vehicle damage caused by the car accident.

Note: For injury and vehicle damage cases, the statute of limitations “clock” starts running on the date of the crash. But if someone died as a result of the accident, a Washington wrongful death lawsuit must be filed against the at-fault driver within three years, and the “clock” starts on the date of the deceased person’s death, which could be different from the date of the accident. That deadline is set by Revised Code of Washington section 4.20.046.

(Note: Regardless of whether the lawsuit is over an injury or a death, your case will hinge on your ability to prove that someone else’s negligence was the cause of the car accident. Learn more about Car Accidents Caused by Negligence.)

It’s crucial to understand and abide by the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential lawsuit, because if you miss the filing deadline, you will almost certainly lose your right to ask the court to remedy the losses you suffered because of the car accident.

From a strategy standpoint, you always want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to. That’s true even if you are confident your case will reach a satisfactory settlement. At the very least, keeping the lawsuit option open will give you more leverage during settlement negotiations. If the statute of limitations deadline is looming on the horizon, it may be time to contact an experienced Washington car accident attorney.

by: David Goguen, J.D.

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