Each state in the U.S. places a statute of limitations on personal injury cases. You must file the lawsuit within a certain period of time or you lose your opportunity to file the lawsuit at all. So how long after an accident can you file a claim?
Below, we discuss Washington’s statute of limitations as well as the best time to file a lawsuit for accident claims. To learn more, contact a Seattle WA personal injury attorney at Fielding Law Group today.
What Is Washington’s Statute of Limitations on Accident Claims?
In Washington, the statute of limitations is three years. In other words, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit against a negligent party. There are, however, some situations in which the statute of limitations can be “tolled”. In this case, the statute of limitations would begin ticking down from a date other than the date of the accident.
Statute of Limitations Tolled for Minors
One common reason the statute of limitations would be tolled is in the case of minors. Let’s say a child is injured in a car accident. The statute of limitations would not start ticking down until their 18th birthday. Logistically, they would have until they’re 21 to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party.
On the other hand, it’s almost never a good idea to wait that long. Children have until their 18th birthday because the court prohibits minors from pursuing a personal injury lawsuit on their own behalf. You can, however, petition the court to assign a guardian ad litem whose purpose is to represent the child’s interests during the dispute.
However, as long as a parent or other guardian is willing to bring the suit on their behalf they can file suit as soon as they know they’re injured. In fact, this is preferable to filing suit however many years later when the information is no longer fresh in everyone’s memories.
What Is the Discovery Rule?
Let’s say that the statute of limitations has run out on a car accident injury claim. One day, you are playing tennis and run cross-court to return a shot. Suddenly, you feel a screaming pain in your back followed by numbness and you’re now having difficulty moving your feet or legs. You go to the hospital, and the doctor traces the injury to an untreated stress fracture in your lower spine. The statute of limitations has run out and your window to file a lawsuit has elapsed. Can you file a lawsuit anyway?
The short answer is yes. You can file a lawsuit if you can prove that you only discovered the injury several years after the fact. Does this happen often? No, it doesn’t. Could there also be a question of medical malpractice? Yes, there can.
Essentially, you will make the argument that you did not know about the injury nor could you have known. The defendant will petition the court to dismiss the case on the basis that you probably knew about the injury or failed to exercise due diligence in keeping up with doctor’s appointments or having yourself treated. They might win the motion or they might not.
Why Filing a Claim as Early as Possible Is Best
In most cases, it’s nearly impossible to petition the court to toll the statute of limitations based on the discovery rule. This is especially true for injuries sustained in car accidents, slips and falls, or dog bites. For injuries that may have had a cumulative effect, such as (for instance) the current lawsuits against talcum powder manufacturers or tobacco lawsuits, the statute of limitations can be easily tolled. But generally, you won’t need it to be in those cases.
While it’s rare that the courts will toll personal injury lawsuits involving blunt force trauma, it isn’t unheard of. If you believe a prior injury made you more susceptible to being injured later in life, you may have a legitimate case that you can file past the statute of limitations. It may also be true that you have a better case against the doctor who failed to treat you for that injury before it became more serious down the road.
However, since stalling the statute of limitations is both difficult and rare, the best time to file a lawsuit is as early as it makes sense to do so.
Talk to a Seattle WA Car Accident Attorney
For answers to more questions like “how long after an accident can you file a claim?” speak to a Seattle WA injury attorney. Fielding Law Group gets top-quality results for our clients. Set up a free consultation today.