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 statute at Revised Code of Washington section 4.16.350. According to the law, you must file this kind of case within three years after the underlying malpractice was allegedly committed or one year after you discovered (or should have been able to discover) that you were injured as a result of malpractice, whichever of those dates comes later.
It's important to note that if you are arguing that you did not learn 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 before you actually made that discovery.
There is also a larger catch-all filing deadline (known as a "statute of repose") in Washington: All medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed within eight years after 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 your injury was caused by a foreign object left inside your body after a medical procedure, or the medical provider committed fraud or intentionally concealed the medical error, you will have one year to file the case after you actually learn about the fraud, concealment, or foreign object—even if it's more than eight years after the original incident.
Also, the statute of limitations is tolled when the injured patient is so disabled that he or she can't understand the legal proceedings.
And finally, when either side in the dispute makes a sincere, written request for mediation before the lawsuit is actually filed, the statute of limitations will be tolled for one year in order to allow time for the mediation.
By now you're probably wondering what happens if you try to file your medical malpractice lawsuit after Washington's filing deadline has passed. 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.