How long do I have to file a car accident lawsuit in Washington?

Here's why it's important to pay attention to the Washington car accident statute of limitations.

After any kind of car accident in the state of Washington, if you are thinking about filing a claim over injuries or vehicle damage, it's critical to have an understanding of how the “statute of limitations” applies to your potential case. Every state has these laws on the books, and they set a limit on the amount of time you have to file a civil lawsuit. There are different deadlines depending on the kind of case you want to file.

The main reason why you need to have the Washington statute of limitations deadline in mind -- and make sure to follow it -- is that if the time limit has passed and you try to file your car accident lawsuit anyway, the court is almost certain to dismiss your case (after the person you’re trying to file against files a motion to dismiss in which they point out the missed deadline). There are some limited situations that will “toll” (or pause) the running of the statute of limitations “clock” in Washington. If you've got questions about these exceptions, an experienced Washington attorney will have the answers.

That's why the statute of limitations matters. Now, what is the applicable deadline in Washington?

The statute of limitations that will apply to most Washington car accident lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to the majority of 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” (emphasis added). That includes any injury claim brought by a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or bicyclist after a traffic accident. That same statute also applies to the filing of “an action for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property.” So if you only want to file a lawsuit over vehicle damage, you have three years to get the case started. And remember, the statute of limitations “clock” starts running on the date of the crash.

You may doubt that you’re going to need to file a lawsuit over your car accident. But it’s still important to have the Washington statute of limitations deadline in mind throughout the car insurance claim process. You always want to have the threat of filing a lawsuit as a bargaining chip, especially if things get contentious. If the adjuster knows you can always call off settlement talks and take the case to court, that’s a big incentive for them to offer you a reasonable settlement and put the matter behind them, instead of putting it in the hands of an unpredictable jury.

Bottom line: Protect your rights, and keep all of your options open for getting compensation after a car accident. Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time under the applicable Washington statute of limitations. And if the deadline is approaching, it may be time to turn your case over to an experienced Washington car accident attorney.

Learn more about Car Accident Laws in Washington.

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