If You Snooze, You Lose! Statute of Limitation Issues with Auto Accident Claims in Washington State

Please note that this is an informational blog. I accept no professional responsibility for this blog, and it is not intended to be a treatise on this subject matter. A person with an injury claim should consult my firm or another attorney before the applicable statute of limitation about their prospective remedies.

The law sets a period as to when a person or entity can pursue a civil action. This is called the statute of limitation. When one is injured in an auto accident claim, while it may not always be fair, the victim must pursue their claim within a certain time frame. If the person does not pursue their claim within the proper time frame, the person’s claim will usually become forever barred, meaning that it can no longer be heard in a court of law regardless of who is at fault. 

Under the Revised Code of Washington Section 4.16.080, the statute of limitation for injury to a person or her rights is three years. The three-year period starts on the date of injury. Under RCW 4.16.190, the statute of limitation is tolled until a child turns 18. Tolling is a legal doctrine that allows for the pausing or delaying of the period of time set forth by a statute of limitations. However, there are some exceptions for certain claims such as medical malpractice claims wherein the statute of limitation for a minor is not tolled. An injured person should consult an attorney immediately about tolling and other issues related to the statute of limitations for his or her specific case.

On a practical note, it is usually better for a person to begin to pursue their auto accident claim years before the applicable statute of limitation. This is because witnesses can disappear, evidence can be destroyed, memories worsen and other complications can emerge.

The statute of limitation period means more than just telling the alleged at-fault driver or their insurance company that the victim intends to pursue a claim. The lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitation period or the at-fault party must be served before the statute of limitation. To completely comply with the statute of limitation, the auto accident lawsuit must be filed in the correct court and the at-fault party must be properly served. Washington state law allows for a 90-day tolling of the statute of limitation after the filing of the lawsuit or service of process.

Some Washington state auto accident victims mistakenly think that they can name the at-fault driver’s insurance company as the defendant in a lawsuit. This is usually not the case. In most auto accident cases, the actual alleged at-fault driver must be specifically named as a defendant.

Filing a lawsuit requires a filing fee, and the Complaint for Damages (or lawsuit) must be drafted and structured properly. Service of process seems easy on the surface, but multiple complications can emerge with service of process. The easiest way to serve a party is with hand-to-hand service, but sometimes that becomes difficult or not possible.  A party can be served under Washington state law in an auto accident case through the Secretary of State, through certain mail procedures or through publication procedures. A claimant’s attorney must pursue these different methods of service of process with care.

If the auto accident case involves a claim against a governmental entity, direct action against an insurance company or a business entity, there are some additional statutes that must be complied with pursuant to legal due diligence. 

It is important that all of the alleged at-fault parties be named properly and that various procedures are followed properly for the particular case. There are certainly some traps that come up in what seems to be a basic auto accident case when it comes to statute of limitation matters. It is essential that the statute of limitation be handled with extreme care and attention. Please note the statute of limitation for assault and some other civil actions is two years or even less.

Victims of accidents or other injuries that may require legal remedies should consult my firm or retain legal counsel immediately following the incident to ensure compliance with statute of limitations and service of process. 


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