One of the primary principles protected under Washington state law is your right to receive compensation if you were injured or had your vehicle damaged in a car accident. This right is not absolute, and it involves several legal conditions that must first be fulfilled. One of these is the condition that you must file a lawsuit to recover compensation within a strict time limit. This is referred to as a limitation period and its length may depend on your specific claim.

Personal injury and vehicle damage

Under the Washington state statute of limitations, a car accident lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date of the accident. This includes any person suing after the accident, including a driver, pedestrian, passenger or bicyclist.

The requirement is the same if you suffered any kind of injury during the accident, or in the event of damage to your vehicle. The limitation period begins to run on the day of the car accident and ends exactly 3 years later.

Any person that fails to commence their lawsuit within this period may be unable to do so. Unless certain limited exceptions apply, the court will refuse to entertain the lawsuit.

Wrongful death

For cases where the person hurt by the accident dies due to their injuries, a family member can file a lawsuit in their place. The limitation period for these “wrongful death” claims is also three years.

However, the period only starts to count on the day the victim died, and not the date of the car accident. This rule is set by Revised Code of Washington section 4.20.046.

Exceptions to the rule

There are certain limited cases where the court may accept a lawsuit filed after the limitation period. These include where:

  • The defendant left the state, making it impossible to sue until they return.
  • The defendant was legally incompetent at the time e.g. if the defendant was a minor or legally unfit to stand trial.
  • The defendant was in jail during the period or on active military duty.

Circumstances exist that make it just for the court to accept the case e.g. where you only found out that you had a claim, years after the accident

It is important to keep the limitation period in mind, even when you intend to obtain compensation only from an insurance company. If your claim is time barred, the insurance company will have no incentive to pay you.

If you think you might be stretching the limitation period a bit, you should contact an experienced Washington car accident attorney at once.